Get Yourself Checked on HIV Testing Day
By Lindsay Patterson
About 1 in 5 Americans who are HIV-positive do not know they’ve been infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But it’s never been easier to get tested, especially today, which is National HIV Testing Day.
The message of National HIV Testing Day is to know your status and take control of your health. While medical advancements have reduced the deadliness of an HIV diagnosis over the past 30 years, the virus is present, and close to home.
“One in every 378 people in Austin and Travis County is believed to have HIV, whether they know it or not, or have HIV/AIDS and are living with it,” said Ebony Smith, a public health educator with Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services.
The department says it’s seen an uptick in the number of HIV cases diagnosed in people under 18 over the past few months. Smith says she worries about complacency when it comes to HIV infection, especially among a demographic that didn’t experience the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early ’90s.
The nonprofit AIDS Services of Austin was founded in 1987, a year after the first case of AIDS diagnosed in Austin. It offers free HIV testing year-round, every Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m.
“This is our lab. It’s very basic but it has everything we need to run the test,” said Jonathan Chavez, a prevention specialist at AIDS Services of Austin, which uses a test called Ora Quick Advance. “It is a rapid test; it’s basically a swab test.”
It looks like a pregnancy test: a plastic stick with lines that display your results, and a swab to collect your sample. The test can detect HIV in your body with more than 99 percent accuracy.
“The great thing about this test is that it’s really simple to use,” Chavez said. “All they have to do is put it between their gums and cheeks, right here. They go once all the way around, once, only one time. They give it back to us, and that’s it. There’s no needles, there’s no blood, and the results are done in 20 minutes.”
While the patient waits for the results, they get counseling in a small, comfortable room lined with leather couches. If the results come back positive, AIDS Services of Austin provides connections to long-term care, which makes it possible to live a long and relatively healthy life.
For National HIV Testing Day, they’ve planned a series of testing events at downtown nightclubs.
“We go to the club, we set up some cubicles so we can make it confidential, and we’re going to do testing with the same test, Ora Quick, but we’re going to make it a little bit faster,” Chavez said.
Tonight his team will be testing at the Iron Bear at Eighth and Colorado. To find out where you can get tested, call 512-458-TEST (458-8378).