HIV testing still important to reduce risks for others

HIV testing still important to reduce risks for others

Magic Johnson shocked us with it in 1991. Almost a decade before, Ryan White broke our hearts as an Indiana teenager suffering following a contaminated blood treatment for his hemophilia. This year, Matthew McConaughey took home an Academy Award and brought the issue back to the forefront in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Every 9.5 minutes someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV, and many don’t even know they’ve been infected until they’ve passed the virus along to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Chicago alone, more than 21,000 people are living with HIV and 1,000-plus new cases are diagnosed each year.

With June being National HIV Testing Month, different Illinois-based groups along with many other free testing being offered across the nation, such as Stand Up Get Tested, will provide free testing throughout the area starting June 5. Testing for both HIV and sexually transmitted infections has become something even more paramount with Chicago being the number one in the state for gonorrhea, number two for chlamydia and three for syphilis, according to the CDC.

“It is important to get tested so you can decrease the chances that you are at risk or that you are passing it on to other people. Getting diagnosed lets you know your status,” says Rukiyat Lawal, patient navigator at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “Even though people have known about HIV and AIDS for decades, that doesn’t mean people are always practicing safe sex. Check-ups are a good reminder.”

With technology and the “app culture” increasing at a rapid rate, there are more ways to bring awareness of HIV and AIDS.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created an app called “Facing” where people can upload pictures of themselves and talk about how they cope with having the condition and dispelling myths. HIV Connect, a free app on Android, provides a community where HIV conversations are encouraged; while other forms simply allow people to find the closest places they can receive testing.

“It’s a great new tool because people are always on their phones, especially the younger generation,” Lawal says. “You can do something as easy as put in your ZIP code, and the app will tell you where to get tested.”

In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that hundreds of thousands of Americans who are possibly at risk for AIDS take Truvada, a daily pill that could prevent infections with the virus. The recommendation is for those who typically have sex without a condom, including gay, bisexual and heterosexual men. And while every year, there will continue to be new treatments, the same adage rings true regardless: “It’s as simple as making sure you protect yourself,” Lawal says. “That will always be the number one way for prevention.”

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.