In observance of National HIV Testing Day, June 27, the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) encourages all Rhode Islanders ages 13-64 to get tested for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at least once or more often as needed to help ensure the long-term health for themselves, as well as for any newborn child, sexual partner, or other important relationship in their lives.
"Knowing your status is vital to protecting yourself and those closest to you,” said Michael Fine, M.D., director of HEALTH. “All teens and adults should speak with their doctor about getting tested for HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases during their regular check-ups."
With early treatment and continued care, people infected with HIV can live long, healthy lives, and avoid infecting their partners.
More than one million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the United States, with almost 1-in-6 people unaware that they are infected and at-risk of spreading HIV to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends routine testing for everyone ages 13-64 regardless of perceived risk.
Hundreds do not know they are infected
In Rhode Island, an estimated 400 people do not yet know they are infected with HIV. Once someone knows he or she is living with HIV, care and treatment with medication can weaken the virus’s ability to replicate and infect others. Studies have also shown that many people living with HIV and their partners often change some behaviors and take fewer risks, such as always using a condom during sex, reducing or limiting sexual partners or acts, or abstaining from sharing injection drug needles that can also transmit the virus.
Once someone’s HIV-positive status is known, his or her sexual partner may also take a daily prescribed pill known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP. In recent months, the CDC issued new guidelines for PrEP as one recommended preventive measure under a physician’s care. PrEP has been shown to reduce the chances of new HIV infection by more than 90% in clinical trials. Anyone taking PrEP should continue to use condoms and get tested for HIV every three months, per CDC guidelines.
Goal to eliminate new infections by 2018
"The goal of the Rhode Island Department of Health is to eliminate new HIV infections in Rhode Island by 2018," said Dr. Fine, adding that there were 74 new HIV cases reported in Rhode Island in 2013, down from 97 in 2011, and 125 in 2009. "This goal is an important part of our efforts to make Rhode Island the healthiest state in the nation and we could not do this without our state and community partners, our healthcare providers, and our state’s advocates for HIV prevention, testing, and care."
Rhode Islanders who do not have a primary care doctor, who lack insurance, or who are concerned about out-of-pocket costs for testing may take advantage of free or low-cost HIV testing offered through HEALTH's year-round partnerships with organizations like AIDS Care Ocean State, AIDS Project Rhode Island, and MAP Behavioral Health Services. Such community-based agencies also offer testing for Hepatitis C.
Some agencies will offer extended testing hours or other special events during the week of June 23-30to accommodate additional patients seeking HIV testing or those with questions. More information about HIV testing and prevention is available at JustGetTestedRI.org.