Knowledge is power

National HIV Testing Day set

The Marquette County Health Department, along with other agencies across the nation, is working to spread the word about Wednesday’s National HIV Testing Day and the importance of HIV testing. Above, a blood sample for an HIV test is collected on a previous National HIV Testing Day. Getting tested for HIV is important for prevention and treatment of HIV, officials say. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

MARQUETTE — National HIV Testing Day is Wednesday — health departments across the nation, including Marquette County Health Department, are working to spread the word about the importance of getting tested.

“Each year on June 27 we observe National HIV Testing Day,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “On this day, we unite with partners, health departments, and other organizations to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing and early diagnosis of HIV. Help encourage HIV testing on National HIV Testing Day and every day to ensure people get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment services.”

According to a press release from the Marquette County Health Department, HIV testing and awareness of individual HIV status “provides powerful information,” as knowledge of HIV status is critical for both prevention and treatment of HIV.

“Getting tested and knowing your HIV serostatus are entry points to either the HIV prevention continuum or the HIV care continuum,” HIV.gov states. “If you test negative for the virus, knowing the results allows you to take steps — like using condoms, taking PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), and limiting risky behaviors — that can help you stay negative.”

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is dangerous because it can attack and destroy the immune system’s infection-fighting cells – the loss of these cells can make it difficult for the body to effectively fight infections, as well as certain cancers.

If HIV is not treated, it can destroy the immune system, advancing to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which is the most advanced stage of HIV infection — this makes it particularly important to know your HIV status and seek treatment if HIV positive.

“If you are living with HIV, knowledge of your serostatus is essential to accessing and receiving the medical care and support services you need to stay healthy and live a long life,” HIV.gov states. “People who are diagnosed early and stay virally suppressed can live almost as long as a peer who does not have HIV.”

HIV isn’t spread through touching, coughing or the bite of an insect — the virus is only transmitted between people when certain bodily fluids from a person who is infected with HIV come into direct contact with another person’s mucous membrane, damaged tissue or bloodstream.

In the U.S., HIV is primarily transmitted from one person to another by unprotected sexual contact or sharing of intravenous injection equipment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To reduce the risk of HIV infection, the USDHHS recommends consistent and correct condom use, limiting the number of sexual partners and never sharing injection equipment.

“Risky behaviors include having unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status is unknown or who is infected with HIV, contact with infected blood and sharing injection drug needles or equipment containing blood from someone who may be infected with the virus,” the CDC states.

Early symptoms of HIV infection can appear within two to four weeks of infection, but may not be immediately recognizable as such — according to the USDHHS, a person may exhibit flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, chills or a rash during this time period.

These symptoms may persist for a few weeks, but more severe symptoms, such as becoming susceptible to opportunistic infections, typically don’t appear until years after a person has been infected.

The early flu-like symptoms, along with the latency between infection and the appearance of severe symptoms, mean an HIV infection may not be obvious — as of 2014, approximately 15 percent, or 166,000, of individuals with HIV in the U.S. were unaware of their HIV-positive status, putting these individuals at risk for “developing HIV-related illnesses and transmitting the virus if they engaged in high-risk sexual behavior,” according to HIV.gov

“HIV transmission cannot be eliminated if individuals do not know their HIV status (i.e., whether they are HIV positive or HIV negative),” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “An HIV test is the only way to determine if a person is living with the virus. Once an individual knows s/he is living with HIV, safer behaviors may be practiced to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of transmission.”

The CDC recommends that all people between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care — for those with certain risk factors, testing is recommended more frequently.

Locally, the Marquette County Health Department offers free and confidential/anonymous HIV testing. According to the health department, the HIV test is done by poking the finger and collecting a blood sample, with the results available in 20 minutes.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Marquette County Health Department HIV Coordinator Laura Fredrickson at 906-475-7651.