DOVER — No one should live in fear of learning their HIV/AIDS status and every June for 14 years, organizations across the nation have made a push to offer free screenings to those who need it.
In Kent County, the Dover Air Force Base Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month Committee is offering free screenings to the public on Friday, June 19.
“The most important step is to know your status so you know what measures to take, whether it’s to continue practicing safe sex or seeing a doctor for treatment,” said Capt. Tiny Cox, coordinator of the screening.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50,000 people in the United States contract HIV every year and 1.2 million are living with HIV and 14 percent aren’t even aware.
The free testing will be done in partnership with the Delaware Division of Public Health, which will conduct the screenings in individual rooms to protect participants’ privacy.
“It was easy to get Public Health involved. All we had to do was ask and they were on board,” Capt. Cox said. “On base, we are required to be tested, so it’s not a question for service members but we wanted to extend the test offer to members of the community.”
The test results are nearly immediate and will be returned while participants wait in their room.
“If your test comes back positive, a counselor will be on site and can provide more information about HIV, set you up with a doctor or even counseling sessions if you’d like,” Capt. Cox said.
Equally important as eliminating ignorance of HIV/AIDS status is eliminating ignorance about the disease.
The first misconception the CDC is working to end is that HIV/AIDS is a condition that only effects homosexuals. Although gay men make up a majority of those living with HIV/AIDS, a 2012 study revealed that a quarter of new cases are among heterosexuals.
HIV is no longer a death sentence and many of those with the condition can continue to live relatively normal lives with the help of modern medicine and a healthy lifestyle.
Although the prognosis has improved over the years, in the United States the CDC estimates 658,507 people diagnosed with AIDS in the United States have died; that’s more than 13,000 per year since 2010.
HIV primarily is contracted through the exchange of bodily fluids that reach mucous membranes or the blood stream. The most common route of transmission is through unprotected sex or shared needles (usually between drug users).
There is a stigma that HIV is easy to contract but in reality, it cannot be contracted by touch alone, so the CDC says it’s safe to touch items previously touched by someone with HIV and hugging someone with the infection is also safe.
If you have HIV, you can take measures to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Some of the easiest things to do are abstaining from sex or always using protection, not sharing any items that may contain your blood like toothbrushes, razors or needles.
Since the start of the epidemic, approximately 78 million people have become infected with HIV worldwide and 39 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses.
The June 19 free screening will be held at Christ Episcopal Church Parish Hall at 523 S. State St. in Dover from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. No registration is required and light refreshments will be provided.