Last Friday was National HIV Testing Day, but even if you missed it, or forgot, or didn’t even know about it, don’t worry because getting tested is important every day. This year’s annual theme is “Take the Test, Take Control.”
Since HIV first surfaced in the early 1980s, it has killed more than 35 million people worldwide. But today, advances in medicine, including antiretroviral medications can help people with HIV live very long lives.
Getting tested for HIV isn’t solely about your own health. It’s also about helping to stop an epidemic. Nearly half of all new HIV cases are spread by someone who doesn’t know they have the virus.
Although infection rates have declined among men who have sex with men from the peak of the epidemic in the mid-1980s, they are now creeping back up, to about 30,000 new infections per year today. And while men who have sex with men still made up about two-thirds of the estimated 50,000 new annual infections in the United States.
Greg Millett, Vice President and Director of Public Policy for AmFar says HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. “It’s critically important that every American gets tested at least once. It’s even more important that people in high risk groups get tested multiple times each year — 16-18 percent of those with HIV don’t know it,” said Millett.
In South Florida, there are many places you can get an HIV test, in many locations those tests are free.
The actual HIV test is painless and can be as simple as pricking your finger. “We have rapid tests now where people can find out the results in 20 minutes. If someone tests positive, we can usually walk them down a hall and get started with treatment right away,” Millett said.
Officials also say that once people learn they have the virus, they become much more likely to take precautions – such as using condoms during sex – that can prevent HIV from spreading to others
Despite the wide availability of testing locations, many people are still reluctant to know their HIV status. Millett attributes part of that to the lack of media attention currently given to the HIV/AIDS problem in the U.S.
“I noticed it when I was working at the White House. There are so few news articles (especially in Gay media) that are focused on HIV/AIDS. The number of news stories is incredibly few. And gay men are still at such high risk. It’s just not in the mind’s eye anymore,” Millett said.
South Florida is one of the U.S. epicenters of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Millett says getting tested is the key to reducing the number of new HIV cases in our area.
“We know that in terms of geography not every American is at equal risk. Most of those counties (with a higher HIV percentage of HIV cases) represent urban areas such as South Florida, New York. They have a higher prevalence of people living with HIV who don’t know that they’re positive. Those are the issues that we need to contend with. We get health care to everyone who needs it. We need doctors to adhere to CDC guidelines. We have to make sure that care is available to those who are diagnosed with HIV,” Millet said.