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Health Beat: The importance of knowing your HIV status

By MADISON CREASMAN

Beaufort County Health Department

National HIV Testing Day was first observed on June 27, 1995. Since 1995, every year on this date health departments and other organizations unite in order to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing and early diagnosis of HIV. The goal is to help encourage HIV testing on National HIV Testing Day, as well as every day, to ensure that people get tested, know their status, and get linked to prevention, care and treatment services.

Each year there is a theme for National HIV Testing Day. The 2021 theme is: “My Test, My Way.” This theme signifies the importance of getting tested even when a global pandemic is currently happening. “My Test, My Way” has created the opportunity for at home self-tests. There is currently one FDA approved rapid self-test, OraQuick. This test requires an individual to swab their gums to collect oral fluid. The provided kit allows the individual to have results within 20 minutes. If not comfortable doing it yourself, you can do a mail-in self-test, where you prick your finger and collect a small blood sample and mail it in.

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once in their lives as part of routine health care; those at a higher risk of infection should be tested every year. Knowing your HIV status will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to stay HIV free and protect yourself as well as your partner, or, in the case of a positive test, live a long healthy life with HIV.

HIV results can either be positive or negative. I

f you test positive for HIV you can receive treatment to stay healthy and reduce the chance of spreading HIV to your partner. If you test negative for HIV, there are still tools and information available for you to ensure that you continue to limit your risk of HIV. If pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment immediately if you are HIV positive. If an HIV positive individual is treated for HIV early in their pregnancy and gives HIV medicine to their baby 4-6 weeks after giving birth the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby is less than 1%.

In the United States, men who have sex with men are the population most affected by HIV. Among this population, African Americans are the racial group who are most affected by HIV. The CDC recommends that all sexually active gay and/or bisexual men consider getting tested for HIV every three to six months. Even if you are in a monogamous relationship (homosexual or heterosexual) it is still important for both you and your partner to know your HIV status.

For treatment, there are some prevention methods that you can access in case of exposure such as: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention option for people who don’t have HIV but are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV. People on PrEP take a specific HIV medicine every day. However, PrEP should always be combined with other prevention methods, such as condoms. Types of PrEP prevention medications include Truvada and Descovy. Beaufort County Health Department does not provide PrEP medication, but we do provide referrals for PrEP or we recommend talking with your health-care provider so they can find the proper preventative strategies.

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is the use of HIV medicines that reduces the chance of getting infected by HIV after possible exposure to it. PEP may be used, for example, after a person who does not have HIV has sex with a person who has HIV. In order for PEP to be effective, the medicines must be started within three days after the possible exposure to HIV and taken for 28 consecutive days. PEP is used for cases of emergency only and should not be used regularly.

Knowing your HIV status is very important. The only way to know your HIV status is to get tested. The risk of not knowing your status is one too high to take. Protect yourself and your loved ones; we can be the generation to end the HIV epidemic.

Here at the Beaufort County Health Department, we offer free HIV testing in our clinic and a service called TIP (Testing is Power). TIP provides free testing in the community for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C. If results are positive, we will help with follow-ups and referrals to local providers. Our goal is to create an environment where people in the community feel comfortable getting tested regardless of what their results may be. If you or someone you know would like to get tested or learn more about TIP and the services we provide at Beaufort County Health Department, please contact us at 252-946-1902. We are located at 1436 Highland Drive in Washington, and we are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:00 pm.

Madison Creasman, an East Carolina University public health student, is currently interning at the Beaufort County Health Department.