Today is June 27th. It is an average day in the prime-time of summer. Today, you probably want to cut your work day short, enjoy an ice cream from a Mr. Softee truck, hit the beach or the park, spend time with your kids, or do any one of a thousand things that go with the season we all love to enjoy.
But the CDC, and thousands of those who work in HIV awareness and prevention want you to find time to get yourself tested. June 27th, in addition to being the last Friday in June, is also National HIV Testing Day. With the day comes an easy tool to show you how and where you can get tested. I am sure you are thinking, that’s great, but what does it have to do with me? Why should I take away from my precious summer hours to get tested? This chart, and this article, explaining recent data from the CDC explains why:
This article says, “According to CDC, approximately 20 percent of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S. are not diagnosed. Unaware of their infection, they are not accessing the care and treatment they need to stay healthy and reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to their partners. In addition, people living with HIV are dropping off at every subsequent stage in the continuum, with a particularly steep drop-off between those linked to care and those who are retained in care.”
This terminology may be confusing to some who aren’t in the health care world. To sum it up, it means the CDC estimates there are about 1.1 million people who have HIV in the US. Over 200,000 of these Americans have HIV and don’t know it. About 300,000 know they are positive, have access to some form of care, but don’t see a doctor with regularity, nor do they follow a regular treatment regimen because of fear, apathy, access, or prohibitive costs. About 33,000 people are in care but not taking medication. About 180,000 are on medication but the meds have not succeeded in suppressing their viral loads (A term used to describe the number of HIV virus cells in someone’s body). A little over 250,000 know they have HIV and are successfully treating it. They have what’s known as an undetectable viral load, which means there is no detectable HIV in their bodily fluids. The virus is dormant in their system. I have been lucky enough to be in this small group for nearly 18 years. Recent studies show that this group cannot transmit HIV. But, it also means that of the 1.1 million people that are positive, over 800,000 people are still at risk of spreading the virus.
In my novel Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual, the main character David says that the new reality of HIV is not one based on safer sex practices, but one of knowing your status and treating to it. I believe this to be true, and so does the CDC and the President. If you don’t know your status, or if you know and aren’t being treated, you are putting other people at risk. If you are negative, there are now two forms of medication treatments (Google PrEP and PEP) that you can use to protect yourself from getting HIV if you are exposed to any of these numbers who could infect you. Negative people have to accept that many people who do not know choose to identify themselves as “negative.” In most cases this is a fear based choice and not a malicious one. There are also, tragically, a few people who know their status is risky, but may simply lie to you to get laid. Some will also be in treatment and think they are safe, but are actually in the group of 180,000 people who are not effectively suppressed.
Denial and/or dishonesty know no sexual orientation. Everyone, whether Gay, Straight or Bisexual, needs to know what their status is and get into treatment accordingly. Further, since the CDC has put this call into motion, we need to collectively insist that they work to make medications more affordable and accessible to those who are not in treatment because of their socio-economic status. The truth is the more people we can push into the undetectable group, the less we all have to fear from HIV.
And for those of you who doubt the veracity of the claims that virally suppressed people can not spread HIV, I will point you to The Partner Study and the study called HPTN 052. This is chart to better help you decipher the results of The Partner Study:
The reality of HIV is different than it was thirty years ago. We have the tools to stop it; we can make HIV as rare as polio in this country. But to do so, we each have to be diligent for a generation, and dedicate ourselves to the promise of an AIDS-free Generation born next year. We all have to believe that can be a reality. The only thing that prevents that reality is your choices. Will you get tested? Will you take medication if you are sexually active? Will you encourage those that do rather than shame them? Will you do all of that so the shadow of fear and stigma we have all lived with for over three generations can end, once and for all? Can you get past you own fear and judgment so we can at least give a life free of AIDS to the next generation? I promise you it’s all easier than you think, if you are willing to get fully educated and do your part. And you can start by getting tested today.