June 27 of each year is recognized in the United States as National HIV Testing Day. Since 1995, communities around the country have sponsored testing events and education campaigns to coincide with the national observance, and Sarasota has been participating for many years. With support from the local and state health departments and the member organizations of the HIV/AIDS Network of Southwest Florida (HANS), our community has benefited greatly from an informed group of organizations, professionals, and agencies reaching out to the community in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. For our community to impact the rate of infection and transmission of HIV/AIDS in our area, however, it will take an educated and motivated citizenry.
I've worked as an HIV/AIDS educator for over 5 years, and have counseled hundreds of people on 'safer sex' and HIV prevention methods. As an HIV counselor, I tested many people in our community and have worked with several organizations as a volunteer counselor for National HIV Testing Day. I also served as the Chairman of HANS from 2009-2011, and am currently chairing the committee for National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Testing Day (Sept. 27th!). HIV/AIDS education and prevention is something that means a lot to me, because I've seen the impact it has on people and I know one person can make a difference in this struggle against a deadly epidemic.
That one person needed to make a difference is you. It sounds cliché, but it is true. It is your decision to use a condom every time you have sex. It is your decision to reduce your risks for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) by reducing your number of partners. It is your decision to stay in control and not use mind altering substances that could influence your sexuality. The choices that you make are yours to decide --- choose to stay safe and to keep your partners safe. Educate yourself, protect yourself and get tested every six months.
Here is some info about HIV/AIDS:
The HIV Virus can cause a group of symptoms (a syndrome) that we call the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Someone with HIV is said to develop AIDS when their T-cell count (a type of white blood cell that protects the body from infections) falls below a certain level. Once HIV develops into AIDS, the body is left largely unprotected from infections such as pneumonia, colds and flu viruses --- called "opportunistic infections."
HIV can only be transmitted through blood, semen, breast milk or vaginal fluids. You can not transmit HIV through sweat, tears or saliva. Likewise, you can not transmit HIV through casual contact such as kissing or hugging. Mosquitoes can not transmit HIV.
HIV does not discriminate. Any person who exchanges blood, semen, breast milk, or vaginal fluids is at risk. Race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or nationality do not change your risks.
HIV treatments have changed since the beginning of the AIDS Epidemic in the early 1980s, and many people can live many years by managing their infection and treating their symptoms. An HIV diagnosis does not have the same impact it did when there was panic over the word and no one understood what it meant, but it is still a life-altering event. Though some people can manage the disease with one or two pills each day, others must maintain harsh regimens of several dozen pills each day on strict schedules and with precise dietary requirements and concessions. Don't let the commercials on TV fool you: the pharmaceutical options are varied, but there is no panacea that cures all with no ill side-effects.
There is no cure or vaccine to prevent HIV infection. There have been recent breakthroughs with immune stem cell therapies, gene therapy and other technologies, but a cure has not been found. HIV is not the only STD you should be educating yourself about and getting tested for --- there is also syphilis, the human papilloma virus (HPV), gonorrhea, herpes and others. A risk for one means you are at risk for all; they are all sexually transmitted.
If you are having oral sex, use a dental dam or a piece of clear plastic wrap!
Always use one barrier between two partners --- never use two condoms, as the friction between them can cause tears in the condom.
The next time you have a sexual partner, consider carefully. Do you know each partner they have had in the past? And each partner those partners had? Remember, it doesn't matter what your partner says, its what they do.
Get tested. Tell your partner to get tested. Ask to see the results. Make sure you are both out of the "window period" of 90 days --- the time it takes HIV to replicate and become detectable in your body. If you had sex last week, today's test might not show an infection; you need to wait 90 days from your last possible sexual experience to be sure of your result. That means no sex or other exchange of fluids for 90 days (i.e., no heroin or drinking breastmilk!)
For more information about HIV/AIDS or National HIV Testing Day, read the press release from the Sarasota County Health Department.
Sarasota County Health Department will provide free testing with same-day results at the following date and location:
Wednesday, June 27, 8:30 a.m.-noon
Sarasota County Health Department
2200 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.
For more information, contact Eva Santiago at 941-861-2873.
The Sarasota County Health Department also regularly offers testing at no charge on a walk-in basis for four sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Testing is provided at the department’s downtown Sarasota location at 2200 Ringling Blvd. from 1-4 p.m. Mondays, 8:30 a.m.-noon Wednesdays, and 1-6 p.m. Thursdays.
The Community AIDS Network also will provide free testing with same-day results on the following days and locations:
Tuesday, June 26, 5-8 p.m.
Bethel CME Church
1719 22nd St., Sarasota
Saturday, June 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Bethlehem Baptist Church
1680 18th St., Sarasota.
For more Information, contact: Serena Miller (941) 366-0461
Planned Parenthood will also provide free HIV testing at the following date and location:
736 Central Ave., Sarasota
Tuesday, June 26, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
For more information, please contact Pat Wolfson 941-356-5438 or [email protected].