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Take advantage of free HIV testing

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides the most HIV and AIDS health care in the U.S., was at the University of West Florida with their free HIV-mobile testing bus on Wednesday.

The human immunodeficiency virus is still a growing epidemic in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a strand of HIV was acquired from chimpanzees and transferred to humans.

HIV is a virus that breaks down a person’s immune system and makes the patient more susceptible to infections and illness. HIV does not always lead to AIDS, especially since the development of treatments that can keep people healthy longer. These treatments can hold off AIDS for years.

These treatments and drugs, however, do not mean that one should not be cautious. HIV and AIDS are still serious diseases that are preventable.

Robert Bolling, lead HIV testing counselor with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the testing bus is on campus every second Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The bus also provides free condoms.

“We tend to do well at UWF, and there is a lot of diversity such as foreign exchange students,” Bolling said. “We predominantly test young people from ages 18 to 22, but we occasionally get some older people here on campus.”

The testing bus tested 20 people on Wednesday. The most people they have tested in one day at UWF was 63 people.

AHF also partners with the county public health department and provides them with data about how many people test negative and positive. Names are withheld when someone tests negative for HIV, but if someone tests positive their name must be recorded and reported to the health department to notify past sexual partners.

“With people who test positive, we link them with health care and try to provide them with other services like support groups and counselors,” Bolling said.

Bolling said that AHF also has a mobile unit that will go around and see patients who test positive and help them with the medical attention they need.  The AHF wellness center located at 4300 Bayou Blvd. provides free testing for sexually transmitted diseases on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 6 p.m.

“I’m glad we get to come out here and provide this service to you guys here at UWF,” Bolling said.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of HIV and AIDS, approximately 125,000 people are living with the HIV infection. Florida is third in the nation for people living with AIDS.

According to AIDS.gov, a website providing information about HIV and AIDS, more than 619,000 people have died from AIDS in the U.S. since the epidemic started in the early 80s, and one in five people who are infected with HIV are unaware that they are living with the disease.

UWF Counseling and Wellness Services can also help students who are tested for HIV by Student Health Services.

“The staff would absolutely refer them to the counseling center so they have someone to talk with about this life-changing diagnosis and would continue to work with them in making sure they begin appropriate treatment,” Mica Harrell, associate director of Health Promotion Services, said.

Harrell said that Counseling and Wellness Services will be promoting safe sex when Sexual Responsibility Week rolls around in March.

“To make sure students have an opportunity to get tested before the end of the semester, we are scheduling an early December testing on Dec. 5 in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation mobile unit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Harrell said.

Harrell said the three most important things students can do to protect themselves from HIV and any other sexually transmitted disease is to communicate with sexual partners about one’s sexual history, always use some type of barrier method such as a condom or a dental dam during sexual interaction and to get tested.

125,000 people are living with the HIV infection. Florida is third in the nation for people living with AIDS.

According to AIDS.gov, a website providing information about HIV and AIDS, more than 619,000 people have died from AIDS in the U.S. since the epidemic started in the early ‘80s, and one in five people who are infected with HIV are unaware that they are living with the disease.

UWF Counseling and Wellness Services can also help students who are tested for HIV by Student Health Services.

“The staff would absolutely refer them to the counseling center so they have someone to talk with about this life-changing diagnosis and would continue to work with them in making sure they begin appropriate treatment,” Mica Harrell, associate director of Health Promotion Services, said.

Harrell said that Counseling and Wellness Services will be promoting safe sex when Sexual Responsibility Week rolls around in March.

“To make sure students have an opportunity to get tested before the end of the semester, we are scheduling an early December testing on Dec. 5 in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation mobile unit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Harrell said.

Harrell said the three most important things students can do to protect themselves from HIV and any other sexually transmitted disease is to communicate with sexual partners about one’s sexual history, always use some type of barrier method such as a condom or a dental dam during sexual interaction and to get tested.

Chelsea Heiser
Staff Writer

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