Sunday, November 27, 2022

Experts: Getting an HIV test is never a bad idea. Here’s where you can get tested for free

Free HIV testing will be offered at the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services on June 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia Beach Department of Human Services)
Free HIV testing will be offered at the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services on June 27. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Virginia Beach Department of Human Services)

VIRGINIA BEACH — During the last decade or two the number of new HIV cases reported has dropped and the life expectancy for those infected has risen.

Increased awareness and testing has helped impact the numbers.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day and the City of Virginia Beach Human Services Department, in collaboration with Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Virginia HIV/AIDS Resource and Consultant Center, will offer free HIV testing.

The testing will take place at the human services offices at 3432 Virginia Beach Blvd. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., said Wendy Voliva, media and communications coordinator for the department of human services.

“The test is free, fast, and confidential. However, individual voluntary consent is necessary,” Voliva said. “No appointment is needed.”

She said the test will involve a finger stick and the ALERE Determine HIV-½ Ag/Ab Combo, which provides HIV test results in approximately 20 minutes.

The numbers

As of December 2017 there were 24,004 people in Virginia living with HIV, and during that year 894 new cases were reported.

In Virginia Beach in 2016, 61 people were HIV positive, down from 68 in 2015. That’s a ratio of 13.5 infections per 100,000 people in 2016. In Norfolk in 2016 there were 74 HIV positive people, down from 77 in 2015, for a ratio of 30.0 per 100,000 people.

Last year the Virginia Department of Health served about 7,700 people though its AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

HIV/AIDS statistics from across Hampton Roads for 2015-2016 (Southside Daily graphic/Statistics courtesy of Virginia Department of Health)
HIV/AIDS statistics from across Hampton Roads for 2015-2016 (Southside Daily graphic/Statistics courtesy of Virginia Department of Health)

HIV 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone between the ages of 13-64 years old to get an HIV test at least once, but recent trends have seen the number of cases drop both statewide and nationally.

“The number of new cases diagnosed per year (in Virginia) has decreased in the last 10-20 years, which mirrors the national trend and follows effort to ensure more people know their HIV status,” said Diana Jordan, RS, MS, and the director of the Division of Disease Prevention, Office of Epidemiology for the state health department. “People diagnosed with HIV benefit from improvements in treatment. The number of people living with HIV has increased during this same timeframe.”

Jordan said while early diagnosis and rapid access to effective treatment play a critical role in ending HIV transmission, for people who take their medications and stay virally suppressed, there is virtually no risk of transmission of HIV to their sexual partners.

Who’s at-risk

While anyone can be exposed to HIV, Jordan said there are certain populations that are more likely to be.

“People likely to be at high risk include injection drug users and their sex partners; persons who exchange sex for money or for drugs; sex partners of HIV-infected persons; and men who have sex with men,” she said.

In addition to long-standing prevention strategies such as condom use, Jordan said biomedical HIV prevention interventions such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis can help limit transmission.

HIV symptoms

The only way to know for sure if someone has HIV is through testing.

However, Jordan said initial symptoms can include the onset of a flu-like illness that appears 2-4 weeks after exposure and include a fever, chills, a rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers.

However, she said some people who have been exposed may not feel ill at all.

“The symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.”

Information about the VDH’s testing program can be found online.

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