08/14/07 — Free AIDS-HIV testing to be available in county September 14

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Free AIDS-HIV testing to be available in county September 14

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 14, 2007 1:45 PM

The number of people living with HIV or AIDS in North Carolina is on the rise, but many of those who have the disease likely are unaware that they have it.

State health officials say an average of 1,700 new cases are reported annually. In 2006, Wayne County identified 27 new cases of HIV, county Heath Director James Roosen said.

But that's just the ones officials know about, he said. It's time to change that, Roosen said, trading ignorance for awareness. If people aren't willing or able to go to the Health Department for testing, the test will be taken to them, he said. Sept. 14 has been set as the date to for the Health Department to provide free local testing for HIV and syphilis.

"This is an effort to test folks that might not otherwise have access to testing or getting tests," Roosen said.

The statewide campaign "Get Real Get Tested" has already been successful in several target sites. In Fayetteville last December, 308 people showed up, with eight testing positive for HIV. Raleigh held in events in February and May -- 218 tested the first time around, with four testing positive for HIV; in May, 91 were tested and four tested positive.

"What we're trying to do here in Wayne is basically the same thing -- give people the opportunity to be tested so they know their HIV status," Roosen said. "Knowing that helps with the spread of HIV."

Prevention is ideal, Roosen said, but not always possible. So, as a stop-gap measure, it is vital to blanket the community with education.

"We're trying to reach people who are involved in risky behaviors, may not have a clue about their HIV status," he said. "If we can, get them into a system of care so they can be treated."

Holly Crane is testing campaign coordinator working with the Division of Public Health through the state's N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. She is presently working with health departments in Wayne and Lenoir counties. Lenoir's testing day is scheduled for Sept. 15.

The neighborhood canvass is effective in drawing the public out, she said.

Explaining the setup, Ms. Crane said staff typically go to outlying parts of counties, while there will also be stationary sites set up in more heavily-populated areas. Patients receive pre-test counseling, followed by a blood test. Results come back in three or four weeks, she said.

"If any have tested positive, we do follow-up with them and make sure they get care for what they need. ... We make sure they get care, get someone to work with them," she said.

A planning meeting for the Wayne County event will be held later this week, Roosen said. State and local partners will discuss the best coverage of the community.

Specific times and locations for the testing will be publicized in the coming weeks, he added.