AIDS Alliance to kick off month-long HIV testing on World AIDS Day Dec. 1
by Marie Nesmith
Nov 23, 2010 | 2584 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jamie Potts, volunteer for the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, assembles ribbons for World AIDS Day.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Jamie Potts, volunteer for the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, assembles ribbons for World AIDS Day. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Compared to other states, Georgia ranked fifth in 2008 in the highest number of AIDS diagnoses with 1,908. While this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic is distressing, it only scratches the surface as the majority of those infected with HIV are unaware of their health status.

"The CDC indicates to us that of those who have it, one in five would not even know it yet and that's because they don't get the [HIV] test done," said Lola Thomas, executive director for the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, a Cartersville-based nonprofit that serves 110 HIV/AIDS clients, ranging in age from 14 to 70, in 10 northwest Georgia counties. "So getting the test done and finding out if you are HIV positive is crucial because early intervention and treatment is essential to a good outcome.

"[HIV/AIDS being a death sentence is] not [true] for most people who comply with the treatments that they are subscribed. Certainly it can be a very favorable outcome. But if you don't know you have it, then you just continue to live with it without any treatment. Then it becomes a lot more problematic."

On Dec. 1, the AIDS Alliance will commemorate World AIDS Day by launching its month-long prevention campaign. Due to a donation of testing supplies from another organization, the nonprofit is able to provide free rapid HIV testing at its office in December on a walk-in basis.

"We always like to commemorate World AIDS Day," Thomas said about the event, which was established by the World Health Organization in the late 1980s. "This year, in particular, we're focusing on prevention by identifying people who may already be infected. And we always like to at this time remember those who have died because even though people live now with HIV, we continue to have deaths every year from AIDS. So we like to pause and remember the people who have died and try to prevent that from happening through our prevention effort."

During World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, testing for people 13 and older will be conducted at two Cartersville sites: the AIDS Alliance, 775 West Ave. Suite E, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church, 130 Jones St., from 4 to 8 p.m. Afterward, the AIDS Alliance staff will administer the tests at their office on Mondays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Fridays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In January, the current schedule will resume with testing only offered on Tuesdays.

During a free, 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 is provided.

"I'm hoping that if nothing else, they will come for the testing and education," said Annie Carter, director of HIV Testing and Prevention Services for the AIDS Alliance. "Because when you're talking to people, sometimes they will say the strangest things like, 'What if I bite off something that they've bitten off of? I don't want to get it.' HIV is very hard to get. You have to do something in order to get it. It's not airborne, because if it were we'd all have it. So you have to do something in order to contract HIV and that's through sex, sharing needles or through a mother to her child. It's through body fluids. So if a person is HIV positive, you can eat off the same plate [and] drink out of the same glass. You will not get it. It has to be some type of body fluid exchanged.

"It's extremely important [to be tested] because a person can be infected with HIV for 10 years or more and not know it. So during that 10 years it's not that the virus is lying dormant, it's because the person had never been tested and do not realize they are HIV positive, thereby passing it on to someone else. So if you start a new relationship and say you had some indiscretions three or four years ago but you were never tested, it's possible that you could have the virus and give it to this person that you've started this new relationship with. So it's important that anyone that has ever been sexually active, and I'm talking oral sex also, get an HIV test. It's so important that you know your status. Not [just] for your well-being but for the well-being of others that you care about."

For more information, contact the AIDS Alliance at 770-606-0953.