HIV: Time to end it

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Few things are more frustrating than persistent misinformation, especially when the result is potentially life-threatening, and certainly life-altering. It simply will not do to let status quo reign over the spread of disease. So it’s time to end it.

End isolation. End stigma. End HIV transmission.

“Getting to Zero” (cases) is no World AIDS Day pipe dream; it’s achievable, with information and simple precautions. According to 2015 reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the estimated number of annual HIV infections (the virus which can cause AIDS) in the U.S. declined 18 percent since 2008. That’s good, but not good enough.

In North Idaho, numbers are slightly up.

So far in 2017, aggregate statistics for Panhandle Health District total 18 HIV reports, including 11 (61 percent) new diagnoses, according to staff epidemiologist Jeff Lee. During the same period in 2016, there were 16 HIV reports, including five (31 percent) new diagnoses.

In fact, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, according to the CDC. One in 7 doesn’t even know it.

“HIV can affect anyone,” said North Idaho Aids Coalition director Shana Zotikos. “However, certain groups are at higher risk for HIV and merit special consideration because of particular risk factors.”

“Anyone” is not one stereotypical profile; it includes all sexually active persons — young and old, of any orientation. The CDC recommends that all persons aged 13 to 64 should be screened for HIV a least once, and for persons at higher risk for HIV infection, at least annually.

Testing is crucial because early detection means living a long and relatively healthy life is more possible. Testing is also fast, easy, and free, thanks to NIAC — a local nonprofit founded in 1989. NIAC spreads awareness, provides treatment assistance, and supports people with HIV in Idaho’s 10 northern counties. They’re very proactive, and very passionate about Getting to Zero.

“This year alone Ryan Marczak, prevention coordinator at NIAC, has presented over 30 ‘HIV 101s,’ and done over 100 HIV tests,” said Zotikos.

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. For free “HIV 101” or confidential Hepatitis C and HIV testing, contact Ryan at North Idaho AIDS Coalition 208-665-1448 or Northidahoaidscoalition.org.

As Zotikos urges, “Stay healthy, get tested and know your status!”

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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