The Lee County Health Department will offer free testing at additional locations this week as part of National HIV Testing Day.
New prescription medications and treatment options, especially when accessed early, allow for better management of the disease, said Diane Holmes, Lee County Health Department spokesperson, adding everyone should be tested for the virus that causes AIDS.
"We just want everyone to come out and get tested," she said. "There are specific risk factors, and it appears the general public is leaning toward being exposed to more of those risk factors."
She provided an example.
"In other words, having sex with multiple partners in a lifetime would be considered a risk factor," Holmes said.
The presence of any other sexually transmitted disease would be another.
HIV is found in the blood, semen or vaginal fluid of someone who is infected with the virus. You may be at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV if you:
- Engage in anal, vaginal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners without using a condom
- Inject drugs or steroids where needles/syringes are shared
- Have a sexually transmitted infection, such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis
- Have been diagnosed with hepatitis, tuberculosis, or malaria
- Exchange sex for drugs or money
- Are exposed to the virus as a fetus or infant before or during birth or through breastfeeding from a mother infected with HIV
- Received a blood transfusion or clotting factor in the United States anytime from 1978 to 1985
- Engage in unprotected sex with someone who has any of the risk factors listed above
Source: Lee County Health Department
Additional. testing clinics next week will include locations in Fort Myers, Lehigh, and North Fort Myers.
Testing sites scheduled as part of National HIV Testing Day - today, June 27 - are:
- Today, June 27, 10 a.m.- noon, Lehigh Community Services, 201 Plaza Dr. # 3, Lehigh Acres
- Today, June 27, 9 a.m. - noon, All Souls Church, 14640 N. Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers
- Friday, June 29, 4-7 p.m., Walgreens, 4204 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers
The test to be offered is a blood test. Results are typically available in two days to two weeks, depending on the lab.
Testing administered by or through the Health Department is always free and is offered daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, at the Health Department clinic at 83 Pondella Road. Appointments are preferred but not required. To schedule an appointment call 239-656-2542, or check the agency's website, which lists free testing locations, times, and dates on its calendar: calendar.doh.state.fl.us/main.php?calendar=CHDLee&view=month.
The testing process can be anonymous, upon request.
In addition to the Health Department, the Island Coast AIDS Network offers free testing daily at its offices at 2231 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers.
The not-for-profit agency formed "To stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and assist individuals infected and affected in Southwest Florida" offers the new quick test, Clearview, which uses a finger-prick sampling of blood and offers results while you wait.
"It requests just a small, small, small amount of blood; results usually take about 15 minutes," said J. Mitchell Haley, ICAN director of development.
Getting the results almost immediately is an advantage for some, he added.
"That's really the primary emphasis of it," Haley said. "The oral swab that is taken normally takes anywhere from 7-10 days. A person can get nervous in that period. The finger prick is that much more immediate."
According to the ICAN website, the finger-prick test is offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Walk-ins are welcome, but a phone call ahead, to 239-337-2391 to make sure a tester is available, is recommended.
"We're usually ready between 9 and 5 most days of the week, but it is better for people to call," Haley said.
An estimated 1,600 people in Lee County are HIV positive. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million Americans are HIV positive - and 20 percent don't know it.
ICAN officials also recommend that everyone be tested.
"My opinion is everyone should get tested at least once," said Dan Mitton, ICAN director of education and prevention. "It just depends on risk factors, which are who you have been with and their risk factors."
That isn't always readily apparent, he added.
"All of a sudden you are high risk and you don't know it," Mitton said of contact with a partner who may have risk factors that have not been shared.
"If you come into contact with risk factors, it doesn't hurt to be tested once," he said. "Based on risk factors, we will make a recommendation on whether you should get tested again."
He emphasized that testing is quick, easy and free.
"We do it every single day," Mitton said. "We're the only agency in town that does the free rapid, 15-minute tests every day."
ICAN also offers a number of related services. Those include case management for people with HIV; a free STD clinic held in conjunction with the Health Department the second Tuesday of every month; informational classes offered at local hospitals, to community organizations and at schools such as High Tech North; and feet-on-the-street education to at-risk individuals.
For additional information on HIV testing, contact ICAN at 239-337-2391, extension 220, or email Dan Mitton at email@example.com.