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    Let's all get tested for HIV. Does that sound like a crazy statement? Maybe it does to some, but all people - homosexual and heterosexual people - need testing to stop the spread of the disease. Getting tested for HIV seems very nerve-wracking for many people, but knowing your status is beyond crucial. I am not a doctor, but I am a sexually active adult who tests myself on a regular three-month basis because I take care of my body and want to live my life the healthiest way possible.

    Currently, our community is struggling to contain the horrific outbreak of HIV cases in Southern Indiana. With new cases popping up, aggressive testing has never been more important. According to the Center for Disease Control, "As of April 21, ISDH (Indiana State Department of Health)  had diagnosed HIV infection in 135 persons (129 with confirmed HIV infection and six with preliminarily positive results from rapid HIV testing that were pending confirmatory testing) in a community of 4,200 persons." Many of the infections spring from intravenous drug use as well as sexually transmitted, the CDC added.

    Earlier in the week, I spoke with Christopher Barton, who has his Ph.D in Pharmacology and Toxicology that focused on HIV microbicides. Our little Q&A session may answer any lingering questions  about the importance of HIV testing for sexually active people.

  First of all, who are the people that should get tested for HIV?

    Barton: Everyone. HIV affects all races, socioeconomic groups, sexual orientations and religions. Even those who believe they are in monogamous relationships should consider it as their beliefs may turn out to be incorrect if one has an unfaithful spouse. How often should people get tested?

    Barton: It is recommended every three months if they are sexually active.The three months was the most aggressive testing regimen. here is a better breakdown:

    Everyone aged 15 through 64 should get tested one time, regardless of their risk factors.
    People who have occasional exposure to HIV risks should be tested at least once a year.
    People who are at high risk for HIV infection should get tested every three to six months.

    The reason is that the earlier an infection is caught, the better the treatment outcomes. early treatment also reduces the chances the person will spread the virus to others. Why should people get tested?

    Barton: Peace of mind and to take charge of their own health. If caught very early, medication will help prevent establishment of viral reservoirs, reduce damage to the immune system, and allow the person to live a normal lifespan. Early treatment also makes them less contagious to others by lowering the person's viral load (the number of copies of virus per milliliter of blood). If caught very early, they can rest assured that they probably didn't pass it on to anyone else. Ignorance of one's status does not change that status, it just allows the virus to spread and do harm to that person. Blood tests vs. mouth swab? Thoughts on this?

    Barton: Either are very viable methods for testing. It all depends on preference. There are even home oral tests available for those who want to test in the privacy of their own home. I don't believe one is better than the other. Both are FDA approved. What should one do if tested positive?

    Barton: First, try not to panic. It isn't the end of the world. However, it is imperative that the person reach out to a care provider - their primary care doctor or an infectious diseases doctor. There will need to be confirmatory tests. But one should also start seeking out service organizations in the community. They provide a wealth of services, including counseling and support for newly diagnosed persons. It can take some time to get used to a positive status, so making sure you have a network to lean upon can be crucial. Should you go get tested alone or bring support?

    Barton: That would be wholly up to the person tested. Some people want to be very private, while some suspecting a positive result may want someone there to lean upon. It is wholly up to the person tested. Whichever way works best is acceptable. The big thing is to get regularly tested in the way that makes you the most comfortable. Thoughts on if you're dating someone with HIV and you are negative?

    Barton: Look into PrEP and support the HIV+ partner's adherence to medication. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a once daily dose of medication taken by an HIV negative person and is extremely effective at reducing chance of transmission. Additionally, studies have shown that HIV+ persons with an undetectable viral load (less than 20 copies per ml) are extremely unlikely to spread the virus as well. With an undetectable viral load being associated with medication adherence, it is important that the HIV+ person not miss doses. Together, an undetectable viral load in an HIV+ partner with the HIV- partner on PrEP should render it extremely unlikely that the HIV- partner would contract the virus. Otherwise, they shouldn't be afraid to love, laugh, and grow old together. PrEP costs will vary based on insurer and whether the person has a copay or co insurance. However, Gilead has Copay assistance available for everyone, and a patient access program for those who have lower incomes.

    Barton also added, "An HIV diagnosis isn't the end of the world - and many persons are living long lives and thriving despite an HIV diagnosis. However, health outcomes can greatly be impacted by how early the infection is caught and treated, with the earlier being the better. Thus, don't be afraid to be tested. The only thing it changes about you is your level of knowledge, and knowledge is power: the power to take control of your own health and reduce further transmissions of HIV."

    So this is MY call to action: Get smart, get tested and protect yourself.


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    Phone: 502-583-1981

    Planned Parenthood of Kentucky Incorporated Louisville Health Center
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    Phone: 502-587-5001

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    Phone: 502-774-4401

    Clark County Health Department Sexually Transmitted Diseases/AIDS Clinical Services AIDS Counseling and Testing Site
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    Phone: 812-288-2706

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    Phone: 502-776-5945

    Planned Parenthood of Indiana Incorporated New Albany Health Center
    2708 Paoli Pike Plaza Suite J
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    Phone: 812-945-4844

    Bullitt County Health Department
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    Phone: 502-543-2415

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    Phone: 502-477-8146

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    Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services North Central District Health Department Shelby County Health Department
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    Phone: 502-633-1231

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    About Spencer Jenkins

    Spillin' all the Louisville LGBT tea.

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