“National Testing Day is just a way to emphasize [the] importance of HIV testing,” said Lola Thomas, executive director for the AIDS Alliance. “It’s been taking place for many years annually just to have a period of one day each year to promote that in a more intense way. ... We’ve discovered over the years, early treatment is essential to good, health living with HIV, and one is unable to know if they have HIV unless they get tested. So the test itself is so important. You can’t tell you have HIV. They’re usually no symptoms for quite a long time but all that time it is damaging the immune system.
“So to get tested is the key. ... Statistics do indicate that about 20 percent of all the people who have it do not know they have it. So that’s troubling because if you don’t know you have it, you could spread it to someone else without knowing that that’s taking place. So that’s one of the issues. Then the second issue is, what I mentioned before, that it is damaging your immune system without you ever knowing it. It’s not uncommon for us to get a call, say from the hospital or from a family member where a loved one maybe is in the hospital and has just been diagnosed only after coming down with some very serious health problem. And that could potentially have been prevented by early intervention, early treatment for the HIV infection.”
Formed in 1992, the AIDS Alliance assists about 110 HIV/AIDS clients in 10 northwest Georgia counties. Along with offering HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the Cartersville-based nonprofit also provides services to its clients, such as a housing program and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
At its office — 1 Friendship Plaza, on the third floor of Cartersville’s Train Depot — the AIDS Alliance administers free oral HIV tests each Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For National HIV Testing Day, the nonprofit is conducting tests Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the anonymous test, a swab is rubbed on a person’s top and bottom gums, then placed into a solution that measures HIV enzymes. Results are available in 20 minutes and pre- and post-counseling also are provided.
“[People need to] get tested,” said Gail Wilson-Paige, an AIDS Alliance volunteer. “... If you come in and you test and you’re negative, you get the opportunity of somebody in the office that gives you some education [about HIV and AIDS and its prevention]. ... Knowledge is power.
“And if they are HIV positive then the chances of them leading a normal as possible life and a long life because the threat’s not there anymore like it used to be — because the [medicines] have gotten so much better — is [better if they] get in care and get in care as quickly as they can. And the only way they’re going to know and the better they’re going to be is if they get tested.”
Found in certain bodily fluids, some of the primary ways HIV is transmitted is through unprotected sexual relations with an infected person; contaminated needles; mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding; and occupation exposure.
According to www.aids.gov, “The first cases of what would later become known as AIDS were reported in the United States in June of 1981. Since then, 1.7 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have been infected with HIV, including over 619,000 who have already died and approximately 1.2 million (1,178,350) adults and adolescents who were living with HIV infection at the end of 2008, the most recent year for which national prevalence estimates are available. The impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic spans the nation with HIV diagnoses having been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. dependencies, possessions, and associated nations.
“CDC estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the U.S. One in five (20 [percent]) of those people living with HIV is unaware of their infection. Despite increases in the total number of people living with HIV in the U.S. in recent years, the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable. However, new infections continue at far too high a level, with approximately 50,000 Americans becoming infected with HIV each year. More than 17,000 people with AIDS in the U.S. died in 2009 and more than 619,000 people with AIDS in the U.S. have died since the epidemic began.”
For more information about the AIDS Alliance’s offerings, call 770-606-0953.