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US Officials Urge Testing for HIV as Health Crisis Intensifies

June 27 is being observed as the National Testing Day in the US. National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is an annual campaign produced by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA-US) to encourage at-risk individuals to receive voluntary HIV counseling and testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 180,000 to 280,000 people nationwide are HIV-positive but are unaware of their status. HIV counseling and testing enables people with HIV to take steps to protect their own health and that of their partners, and helps people who test negative get the information they need to stay uninfected.

Across the country, thousands of HIV counseling and testing sites, state and local health departments, and community-based HIV/AIDS service providers will participate in NHTD events, by holding health fairs, providing community and media outreach, hosting special testing-related events or operating extended hours.

NHTD organizers will also reach out to communities at increased risk of HIV infection, including African American and Latino populations, both of which are disproportionately affected with HIV when compared to other demographic groups in the United States. Meanwhile in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties in South Carolina, facing a health crisis, officials are urging people to get tested for HIV. Confidentiality will be maintained, they promise.

According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Surveillance Report, through December 2005, the district including the tri-county region reported a total of 1,049 HIV/AIDS cases, with a rate of 850 cases per 100,000 people. It ranks number one in the state in HIV/AIDS cases.

Bamberg ranks number two in the state in HIV/AIDS incidence, with a rate of 175 cases per 100,000 people. Orangeburg County ranks number three, with a rate of 829 cases per 100,000 people. With a rate of 45 cases per 100,000 peo ple, Calhoun County ranks number 37 in the state.

"Getting people tested is the first step in linking infected people to appropriate care, treatment and prevention services," said Lynda Kettinger, director of DHEC's STD/HIV Division. "This year's theme, 'Take The Test, Take Control,' encourages people at high risk for HIV to learn their status and gain access to the most appropriate system of care if they are infected."

Bonnie Fogle, an HIV program nurse and case manager at the Orangeburg County Health Department, said the largest percent of cases were in adults 40 years of age or older.

"But ... we are seeing an increase in numbers from those age 18 to 25, the younger group," she said. "What happens is a lot of times those people that are 40 and over do not get tested. Then they get sick, and we learn that they're positive."

Fogle said the Orangeburg County Health Department will offer free rapid HIV tests that produce results in less than a half-hour instead of the usual week or two.

"That's the 20-minute finger-stick blood test," she said, noting that traditional intravenous needle testing will also be available at the health department. The traditional blood tests will be offered at health departments in Bamberg and Calhoun counties as well.

South Carolina reported a total of 21,010 HIV cases, which includes a total number of AIDS cases, from Jan. 1, 1981, through Dec. 31, 2005.

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that health care providers in South Carolina missed opportunities to diagnose people with HIV when they were seen in health care settings for other medical conditions.

Fogle said some progress has been made. The number of prenatally acquired HIV cases, for example, has decreased from 1999 to 2006.

Minority AIDS Council president Shirley James said the council believes everyone ove r age 13 should have a documented HIV test.

The MAC, along with the University of South Carolina/Claflin University EXPORT Project, will provide video and discussion sessions designed to help individuals understand the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the prevention and intervention measures during National HIV Testing Day.


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