Free, rapid HIV screening offered at health center
Previous HIV/AIDS tests not only called for the drawing of blood but also took up to two weeks to screen, according to Jennifer Frizzell, the operations manager of the St. Charles Community Health Center. The earlier test also cost $32.
"We got tons of calls from people who wanted to get the test, but when we told them that it cost $32, they wouldn’t get it," Frizzell said. "Even people who would pay to get the test sometimes wouldn’t come back in to get results two weeks later.
"Now that the test is free and the results are immediate, we hope that more people will get tested."
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. It is possible for a person to have the virus for months or years before any signs of illness appear. The virus weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and people with AIDS develop serious infections and cancers.
"People that live in big cities, such as New Orleans or Baton Rouge, get tested more than people in rural communities, which is scary when you consider that statistics show that one in five people who are HIV positive don’t know it," Frizzell said.
The free HIV screening is offered to anyone in the community. Residents can either call to set up an appointment or visit the health center from 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to get tested. During the test, a swab is taken of a person’s mouth and is then put into a solution. Twenty minutes later, the test can determine with 99.8 percent accuracy whether a person has HIV.
If the test comes back positive, the person is swabbed again and the results are sent to the state for final determination. Those who take the test don’t have to give their name and can choose to remain anonymous.
The health center receives the HIV testing kits for free from the state as part of a family planning program.
"This is a really great program," Frizzell said. "It will increase the number of people that get tested and will help spread awareness of HIV/AIDS."
According to HIV411.org, Louisiana ranks eleventh in the nation in the number of reported AIDS cases. As of June 20, 2010, 30,299 people in Louisiana have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana, including 313 cases in children under the age of 13.
The greatest concentration of new HIV diagnoses in Louisiana occurs in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, according to the web site.
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