The 17th annual National HIV Testing Day takes place Monday, and the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium encourages people to “Take The Test, Take Control” by being tested for HIV.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can be spread in several ways, with the highest risks being for male homosexual contact, heterosexual contact, and through intravenous drug use and shared needle use. It’s less common, but HIV also can be transmitted are through transfusions, breastfeeding or by an infected mother to her fetus. Over time, a case of HIV eventually can progress to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which usually is fatal. New treatments for HIV have slowed the progression to AIDS and people now can live long, nearly normal lives with HIV. These new HIV treatments only work if a person is tested and starts treatment early, when it’s most effective.
HIV testing also is important for the Native community, since HIV/AIDS infection rates are growing in Native communities at a higher rate than for other ethnic groups in the United States. Natives with HIV/AIDS tend to be younger than non-Natives. Since Alaska’s first diagnosis in 1982 through Dec. 31, 2008, there have been 282 Natives diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which is 22 percent of the state’s 1,261 total cases. Of particular concern is the growing number of females with HIV/AIDS. Now almost a third of all new cases of HIV/AIDS are in women compared to less than 10 percent in the 1980s. Natives also have the shortest times between HIV/AIDS diagnosis and death.
To learn more about HIV testing and prevention, contact your local SEARHC medical provider or by going to http://www.hivtest.org/press_files/default.aspx. There are two types of HIV tests (a blood draw or an oral swab), and SEARHC offers HIV tests as a blood draw to its patients. Other programs in Southeast Alaska that offer HIV testing include the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (the Four A’s) in Juneau, the State of Alaska Public Health Centers (with offices in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Craig, Wrangell, Petersburg and Haines), Planned Parenthood in Sitka or Juneau, and other local hospitals and medical providers. Some clinics provide free HIV testing, while others charge. Test results generally take a few days.