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National HIV Testing Day Coming Soon

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June 14, 2010

PHOENIX - Every June 27, state and county health departments mark National HIV Testing Day as a time to urge everyone to get checked as part of their routine medical screening. Ann Gardner, HIV testing and referral coordinator with the Arizona Department of Health Services, says early diagnosis is critical to receiving treatment and living a long and healthy life.

"This is about education and allowing people to learn that, 'Wow, you know what? I could get tested for HIV. Maybe I don't even know if I've been tested. Nobody's ever asked me about it. Was it in that blood panel I got last year?' It may or may not have been; it depends on your physician and your health plan."

Gardner says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation is that every sexually-active person up to age 64 be routinely screened for HIV. She estimates there are at least 3,500 HIV-positive individuals in Arizona right now, who don't know they're infected.

Gardner says the number of HIV cases in the state continues to rise, and notes that certain behaviors and factors increase the risk of infection.

"Blood-to-blood contact, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, mom-to-baby transmission are risks. So, we still do have some moms that have babies in this day and age who are HIV-positive and that are discovered in our labor and delivery rooms."

Gardner emphasizes that contracting HIV-AIDS is not the death sentence it often was in the 1980s, when a person's average survival time after diagnosis was six months.

"The drugs that came with HIV in the mid-90s - and ever since; we've had a whole slew of new ones as well - those drugs allow us to attack the virus itself. And so, people can live a long, healthy life."

Testing is available through county health departments or personal physicians. Many doctors now include HIV testing as part of routine medical screenings.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ