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National HIV Testing Day underscores importance of early diagnosis and treatment

By   /   June 19, 2011  /   Comments

Getting diagnosed early means people who are infected with HIV can fully benefit from available live-saving treatments – yet nearly 40 percent of people with it are not diagnosed until they already have AIDS.

“We want to raise awareness about the importance of taking the test and taking control,” explained Southwest Health District HIV/AIDS Program Manager Chanel Scott-Dixon. “All too often, patients don’t get diagnosed until years after they have become infected. Catching it early and starting treatment at once can save heartache down the road.”

In observance of National Testing Day, Public Health will sponsor a health fair June 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Dougherty County Health Department. The fair will offer free confidential HIV tests, along with free blood pressure screenings, free oxygen screenings, free weight screenings, booths, vendors and free snacks. The event is free and open to the public.

“The HIV test is fast as well as free,” Scott-Dixon said. “It takes about 20 minutes.”

Since anyone can get HIV/AIDS, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested as a routine part of their medical care, she said.

“It is also important for pregnant women to be tested early in each pregnancy,” noted Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. “That will help eliminate the spread of HIV to infants.”

Southwest District’s HIV AIDS program offers education, testing, counseling, contact and partner identification, notification and referral for treatment. “Our services are offered through our 14 county health departments,” Grant said.

She stressed that patient information such as test results and health status are protected from public scrutiny. “Patients and prospective patients can be reassured that we take patient confidentiality extremely seriously. We don’t want anyone to use privacy concerns as an excuse to avoid HIV screening, education or treatment.”

Risk factors for HIV transmission include:

  • Use of injected drugs or steroids during which equipment  and blood were shared with others
  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex (sex without using condoms) with men who have sex with men, multiple partners or anonymous partners
  • Exchanging sex for drugs or money
  • Receiving a diagnosis of, or treatment for, hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB) or a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as syphilis
  • Having received a blood transfusion or clotting factor during 1978–1985
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who has any of the risk factors listed above

“The only way to know you are infected is to be tested,” Scott-Dixon said. “You cannot rely on symptoms alone because many people who are infected with HIV do not have symptoms for many years. Someone can look and feel healthy but can still be infected.”

For more information about HIV/AIDS, go to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or contact your local health department.

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Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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