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Free testing helping Idahoans with HIV

HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. Modern medicine has made leaps and bounds in HIV health care recently.

“The whole face of HIV care has changed so dramatically in such a short time,” said Russell Fagnant, a registered nurse and medical case manager at Health West ISU Community Health Center.

In Idaho, there are about 1,100 people living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number might not seem very high, but considering only one in five people know they have the virus, the number is likely higher.

That’s why All Under One Roof and Health West ISU offer free, confidential testing on the second Wednesday of every month. Click here to find out when the next testing is.

“Everyone needs to know their status,” said Kevin Lish, the board chair of All Under One Roof.

Knowing whether one have HIV is the first step to getting the right treatment, and the first step to helping reduce the number of cases in Idaho. The CDC recommends everyone get tested at least once in their lifetime. Those at higher risk should be tested every three to six months.

“Really, we should have been concentrating on people who don’t know their status, because that’s probably where the best transmission routes are happening: people who are having unprotected sex without knowing their status,” Lish said.

However, because of misconceptions surrounding HIV, some people are afraid of getting tested.

“They come to us with the fear of a potential unknown diagnosis and their anxiety level is through the stratosphere,” Fagnant said. “In 20 minutes, I can help allay that fear by giving them confirmation of a positive or negative diagnosis.”

Testing is quick and not invasive: an oral swab between the gums and cheek will determine the results.

If it is a positive diagnosis, there are easy and accessible ways to treat the virus.

“It’s down to a very effective one-pill-a-day drug regimen. It’s still a very expensive chronic disease, but we are expecting people to live a full life span with HIV,” Lish said.

The medication can be extremely expensive, reaching $3,000 for a one-month supply, and because of that, Fagnant says some people choose not to get the help they need.

That’s why ADAP exists, or the Aids Drug Assistance Program.

“They step in and help offset or defray the cost of medication for patients who are uninsured or underinsured, or who may be insured but have astronomically high co-pays,” Fagnant said.

Lish has been living with HIV for 22 years and said that with the help of Health West ISU’s HIV clinic, he lives life just like anyone else.

“I have no friends from my 20s left. They all were not as lucky as I. They didn’t make it through the early days of the epidemic,” Lish said. “While it is not a death sentence anymore, I would prefer every Idahoan know their status because they’ve come and had a free HIV test than know their status every day the way I do.”

In recent years, it’s been realized that those who are living on an effective treatment plan for HIV do not sexually transmit the virus. For more information about this, click here.

More developments in HIV health care have led to preventive treatment for partners of people with HIV, treatment for those who were recently exposed to HIV and treatment for expecting mothers’ to keep their babies healthy.

For more information about HIV and misconceptions surrounding it, click here.

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