A simple test, requiring a pin prick to draw a drop of blood, can reveal in about 20 minutes if someone is infected with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. This virus attacks blood cells crucial to the immune system and leads to AIDS. Besides being quick and easy, this test is free, thanks to a local nonprofit organization dedicated to building a healthier, stronger community.
The Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation is offering confidential rapid HIV testing this week at its offices and at several satellite sites throughout the island. This no-cost service is in observance of National HIV Testing Day, which encourages early diagnosis and treatment to save lives and reduce the spread of HIV.
Testing is available today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Waimea, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Alahou Clean and Sober in Kailua-Kona, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo. On Thursday, testing begins 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. at Leleiwi Beach Park in Hilo. On Friday, testing will happen from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mooheau Park Bandstand in Hilo and from 1 to 3 p.m. at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Ocean View.
Those interested may also visit HIHAF’s offices, open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Shipman Business Park in Keaau and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Pines Plaza in Kailua-Kona.
HIHAF Executive Director Misty Pacheco encourages everyone to know their status so they they can take greater precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. She warns HIV doesn’t discriminate, and if you’ve had sex, you should get tested.
If you engage in risky behaviors, such as having multiple partners, injecting drugs, having male-to-male sex or having unprotected sex, then regular testing is advised. With infection, it can take up to three to six months for HIV antibodies to develop, she added.
There is a consensus building for universal HIV testing as a part of an annual exam in Hawaii but it has yet to reach fruition, Pacheco said. Still, making HIV testing a routine part of health care for adolescents and adults ages 13 to 64 is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be an integral part of a national strategy to prevent the spread of HIV and improve health outcomes for those who are already infected.
More than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV infection, of which one in five do not know they infected, according to the CDC.
As of Dec. 31, 2011, there were 2,425 known HIV-positive people in Hawaii, including 216 on the Big Island, Pacheco said. At this time, there’s no cure, but HIV and AIDS can be prevented and treated.
If someone is infected with HIV, the earlier that they get tested, and engage in care and treatment the better because that person is less likely to infect others with the virus and is more likely to live a long and healthy life. Besides testing, HIHAF provides its clients with a variety of services, helping navigate and support them with related needs. This includes case management; insurance, transportation, housing, medical and legal assistance; referrals for care; and advocacy, education and prevention efforts.
Participants who receive a positive result, which is preliminary, during this week’s testing will need to do a second test involving a blood draw that’s sent away for laboratory confirmation. If confirmed positive, that information is sent to the state Department of Health, but remains confidential, Pacheco said.
For more information, call HIHAF at 982-8800 or 331-8177. Also visit hihaf.org.