In recognition of the 23rd anniversary of World AIDS Day, Panhandle Health District (PHD) will offer free HIV testing by appointment Dec. 1st, 2nd and 5th 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 require a simple stick to the finger and provide results in as little as 15 minutes.
"Studies show people who know they're HIV-positive take more precautions," said Lisa Cramer, who coordinates PHD's sexually transmitted disease and HIV program. "We want the HIV rate to go down."
According to the 2010 Idaho HIV/AIDS Epidemiologic Profile, 147 people are living with HIV/AIDS in the five northern counties. That's an increase of four in the past year. In 2010, PHD performed 443 HIV tests.
IV, 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 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS. About 21 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.
PHD offices will offer free testing by appointment the following dates:
- Dec. 1 and 2 - PHD Hayden, 8500 N. Atlas Rd., 415-5270
- Dec. 1 - PHD St. Maries, 137 N. 8th, 245-4556
- Dec. 1 and 2 - PHD Sandpoint - 1020 Michigan, 263-5159
- Dec. 1 - PHD Bonners Ferry, 7402 N. Caribou, 267-5558
- Dec. 5 - PHD Kellogg, 114 Riverside, 786-7474
North Idaho AIDS Coalition will offer free HIV testing Dec. 1 at North Idaho College from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 665-1448 for an appointment.