In recognition of the 21st anniversary of World AIDS Day, Panhandle Health District will offer free HIV testing by appointment December 1-3 in its offices in Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah counties.
The tests are available to people from age 13 through 64. Rapid HIV tests provide results in as little as 15 minutes.
"Studies show people who know they're HIV-positive take more precautions," said Donna Marshall-Holden, who coordinates PHD's sexually transmitted disease and HIV program. We want the HIV rate to go down."
As of 2007, 130 people in the five northern counties were living with HIV. Of those, 101 were male and 29 were female. Four were pediatric cases. The largest number of cases-56-were in the 40-49 age range. Most-94-were in men having sex with men, intravenous drug users or men who did both.
While most-122-of the people with HIV were white, four were Hispanic, two were American Indian and two were black.
HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the immune system that enables our bodies to fight infections. AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the final stage of HIV infection.
HIV spreads through contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk of an infected person. Unprotected sex with an untested partner places a person at high risk of HIV exposure. Sharing syringes and needles can expose a person to blood infected with HIV. Infected women can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
A long-term, mutually monogamous sexual relationship with a tested partner is the best prevention to HIV exposure. Latex condoms and not sharing syringes and needles also offer some protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS. About 25 percent of those people are unaware of the infection, which is a risk to them and others. The CDC recommends routine HIV screening for adults and adolescents.
HIV symptoms often aren't apparent for many years after the infection. Testing is the only way to know about an infection for certain. The rapid HIV test is similar to a pregnancy test, using blood instead of urine.
In 2007, PHD tested 248 people for HIV. That number climbed to 400 last year after PHD began offering the Rapid HIV test. Appointments for the free HIV tests are available:
- Wednesday, Dec. 2, in Bonners Ferry. Call 267-5558
- Thursday, Dec. 3, in Bonner County. Call 263-5159
- Thursday, Dec. 3, in Shoshone County. Call 786-7474
- Tuesday, Dec. 1, in Kootenai County. Call 415-5270
- Tuesday, Dec. 1, in Benewah County. Call 245-4556