Take the test, take control

As National HIV Testing Day approaches, June 27, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department urges you to take the test, take control.

You are at risk for HIV. The only way to know for sure is to get tested, said Barbara Peterson, RN, WHNP-BC, of the Health Department.

For many, the thought of taking an HIV test can be scary or intimidating. Some fear that an HIV-positive result may be too much for them to handle.

Others are concerned that the process will be uncomfortable, embarrassing or even painful. The truth is, whatever the outcome, learning your HIV status is a path to empowerment, she said.

Here are three reasons to get tested today:

– Your health matters: Knowing your HIV status is key to protecting your health and health of your partners. If you are HIV-negative, getting tested allows you the opportunity to take stock and then take steps to stay HIV-negative through safer sex and other preventive practices. If you are HIV-positive, early diagnosis gives you the best chance at a long and healthy life.

– HIV is treatable: Though HIV is still a serious-and infectious-disease, it can be managed with medication. Many people living with HIV lead healthy and productive lives.

– It’s your responsibility: One quarter of people living with HIV in the U.S. don’t know it. This group is the source of most new HIV infections. Without knowing your status, you could be putting your health and the health of your partners at risk – without knowing it. If you are sexually active, it is your responsibility to get tested.

In observance of National HIV Testing Day, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department is offering free HIV testing on Monday, June 10, and Monday, June 17.

Call 779-7237 or (906) 265-4166 to schedule an anonymous appointment.

All HIV testing is anonymous and confidential.

Orasure testing, a non-invasive, oral test that does not involve a blood draw is also available.

Below, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offers some questions and answers.

What is HIV?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. CDC estimates that about 56,000 people in the United States contracted HIV in 2006.

HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4-plus T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

HIV is spread primarily by:

– Not using a condom when having sex with a person who has HIV. All unprotected sex with someone who has HIV contains some risk. However:

– Unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex.

– Among men who have sex with other men, unprotected receptive anal sex is riskier than unprotected insertive anal sex.

– Having multiple sex partners or the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can increase the risk of infection during sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be a risk for HIV transmission, but it is a much lower risk than anal or vaginal sex.

– Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment used to prepare illicit drugs for injection.

– Being born to an infected mother: HIV can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding.

What is AIDS?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

Acquired means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease-causing agent (in this case, HIV).

Immunodeficiency means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.

Syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS, this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight disease.

Before the development of certain medications, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Currently, people can live much longer – even decades – with HIV before they develop AIDS. This is because of “highly active” combinations of medications that were introduced in the mid 1990s.

A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using specific clinical or laboratory standards.

For more information, call the Health Department, contact the Local AIDS Hot line at (906) 282-8014.