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Panhandle Health offering free HIV testing days

| June 10, 2010 9:00 PM

HAYDEN - Even here.

Idaho isn't immune to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as 143 people are living with the disease in the five northern counties.

A majority of those 143 people live in Kootenai County, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in five people living with HIV today are unaware they are infected.

To help reduce its spread, the Idaho Panhandle Health District is offering free testing days in each one of its five northern branches this June as part of National HIV Testing Day, June 27.

The tests are quick and easy, requiring only a prick on the index finger to draw a sample of blood, similar to a pregnancy test.

Results will be available in 15 minutes. A second test will be performed on any positive sample.

A simple procedure, but important as early detection reduces the risk a patient may unknowingly be spreading the disease.

The recommended demographic who should get tested regularly are peopled between the ages of 13 and 64, but nobody is immune from the disease's transmission, as it's passed on through contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk of an infected person.

More than 1.1 million people were living in the United States with HIV last year, according to the CDC, and a new person is infected every 9 and a half minutes across the country.

In North Idaho, more people have been taking advantage of the free HIV test.

In 2008, 356 people tested. Last year, 472 people tested, and in the first five months of this year, 207 have tested.

"That tells me more people are taking care of their health," said Donna Marshall-Holden, who coordinates PHD's sexually transmitted disease and HIV programs. "Studies show people who know they're HIV-positive take more precautions."

A long-term, monogamous sexual relationship with a tested partner is the best prevention to HIV exposure. Latex condoms and not sharing syringes and needles also offer some protection. HIV often doesn't exhibit visual signs, and may take years to develop into AIDS, so infected people may not know they have the disease. Only an HIV test can confirm either way.

Appointments are needed for the free tests. They will be at the following PHD locations: June 21 in Bonners Ferry, 7402 Caribou, 267-5558; June 24 in Sandpoint, 1020 Michigan, 263-5159, June 24 in Hayden, 8500 N. Atlas Road, 415-5270; June 28 in Kellogg, 114 Riverside, 786-7474; and June 28 in St. Maries, 137 N. Eighth, 245-4556.

Information: www.phd1.idaho.gov.

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