World AIDS Day brings local focus on HIV testing
Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association will offer free screenings Thursday
November 29, 2011
Craig — The number of reported HIV cases in Moffat and Routt counties may be relatively small, but the risk factor is always there.
"It's not like we have this large population of people living with the disease here, but a lot of people are at risk for it," said Suzi Mariano, spokeswoman for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
In recognition of World AIDS Day, the VNA will offer free HIV testing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. Residents can get tested at the VNA offices in Steamboat Springs and Craig. The Steamboat office is at 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101, on the Yampa Valley Medical Center campus.
Testing is open to all ages, and no appointments are required, Mariano said.
The test takes a small sample of blood from the finger, and results are available in about 15 minutes.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HIV testing for people who:
■ Inject steroids or drugs and share needles or syringes with others.
■ Have unprotected sex with one or multiple partners.
■ Have been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis or sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.
In addition to other risk factors, people also can be exposed to HIV if they come in contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.
"That could be anything," Mariano said. "That could be from a health care worker to someone who stops to help someone else who's hurt."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends testing for sexual partners before they have sex for the first time.
"For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is even more important," according to the agency's website. "If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby."
Since the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in Colorado in 1982, nearly 16,600 Coloradans have been diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes the disease, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The total number of Coloradans living with HIV increases at a rate of about 3 percent annually.
From 2006 to 2010, one newly diagnosed case of HIV was reported in Moffat County, while six were reported in Routt County, according to the department's 2010 fourth-quarter report.
But those numbers may not tell the whole story, Mariano said.
The statistics are based on reported HIV cases, but they don't include people who have the disease but have never been tested.
Another consideration is the number of people who are coming in and out of Moffat and Routt counties, "being that we have such a transient population and also a tourism-based population," Mariano said.
The local statistics may be elusive, but that doesn't make the disease any less of a potential threat.
"I think it's more important to probably stress … the people who are at risk for contracting the disease," she said. "When you look at it that way, that's a lot of people."