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Get Tested! June 27th is National HIV Testing Day

Bench

By Lindsay Gezinski, Assistant Professor, College of Social Work, University of Utah

HIV/AIDS has claimed the lives of more than 550,000 Americans. Today, approximately 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, one-fifth of whom are totally unaware they are infected. Over the last decade, Utah has made significant progress in decreasing new HIV/AIDS infection rates. Between 2006 and 2010, new HIV infection rates in Utah decreased 38 percent, and new AIDS diagnosis rates decreased 44 percent.

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day

While HIV/AIDS infection rates are decreasing overall, it is important to acknowledge that, nationwide, key groups have been identified as at-risk for contracting HIV, including racial/ethnic minorities, as well as gay and bisexual men. In Utah, 86 percent of new HIV infections were among males, with the highest overall rate among males between the ages of 40 and 44. Whites accounted for 61 percent of new infections, followed by Hispanics (30 percent) and Black/African Americans (7 percent). Ninety-one percent of those living with HIV/AIDS in Utah reported a risk factor, such as men who have sex with men, intravenous drug use, and unprotected sexual contact between men and women.

My colleague, Dr. Sharvari Karandikar, and I recently examined attitudes about HIV among male clients of sex workers in Mumbai, India – a country where, according to the National AIDS Control Organization, over 2 million Indians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2008. The study explored the understanding sex worker’s clients had regarding the risks associated with unprotected sex, as well as condom use and attitudes about condoms and HIV/AIDS. We found significant differences in condom use with sex workers versus intimate partners. This study confirmed earlier findings that clients of sex workers participate in safe sex with sex workers more often than they participate in safe sex with intimate partners. But, clients of sex workers were found to deceive both sex worker partners and intimate partners about their HIV/AIDS status. Male clients often blamed female sex workers for spreading the HIV infection and, in doing so, disregarded their involvement in the spread and prevention of HIV. Perhaps most disturbing, though, was that the majority of respondents in this study, in blaming their sex worker partner for infecting them with HIV, chose to “avenge” their infection by not using condoms. In interviewing the clients of sex workers, we found that few had accurate information about HIV/AIDS and many were skeptical that they could or would become infected.

Similarly, studies in the United States have found that many individuals don’t get tested due to denial of HIV/AIDS risk factors or fear of being HIV-positive. However, early detection is crucial. A recent study suggests that people with HIV live longer and do much better if they get antiviral drugs early in their infection. That’s why it’s important to get tested regularly.

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, which is an annual observance to promote HIV testing. The Student Health Advisory Committee at the University of Utah takes part in this campaign by offering free HIV/STD screenings on campus for students. HIV/STD screenings are also available at Salt Lake Valley Health Department, Central City Community Health Center, and Planned Parenthood. Check out AIDS.gov for other testing centers near you.

Protect yourself. Get tested!