June 27, National HIV Testing Day Campaign Launched in Vermont

For Immediate Release: June 23, 2003

Contact: Rod Copeland, PhD
HIV/AIDS Program Director
Vermont Department of Health

“Take the Test—Take Control”

June 27, National HIV Testing Day Campaign Launched in Vermont

BURLINGTON, VT—For the estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. who are infected with HIV and don’t know it, finding out their status could save their lives.

The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) launched the first National HIV Testing Day on June 27, 1995 with the simple message, “Take the Test, Take Control.”

The Vermont Department of Health is partnering with NAPWA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote HIV antibody testing among people at risk in Vermont.

“Tremendous strides in treating HIV disease have been realized in recent years,” says Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris, “yet the only people who can take advantage of these advancements are those who know that they are infected.”

According to health officials, too many people don’t learn that they have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, until after they are in the late stages of the disease, often after developing symptoms. For these individuals, missing the opportunity for early care and treatment can have serious health implications.

“People with HIV who learn of their status early live longer and healthier with the infection than people who become aware later in the course of their illness,” says Dr. Jarris. “The key to maintaining health once someone has become infected with the virus is early detection.”

“We’ve worked hard to create a comprehensive system that makes testing safe, accessible and free,” says Rod Copeland, PhD, HIV program director for the Vermont Department of Health.

Vermonters can choose to take a confidential blood test, usually through medical clinics and doctor’s offices. “In addition, there are numerous sites located at clinics and community organizations where people can be tested anonymously—no name or address is given,” according to Copeland. “When people use a state-approved HIV testing site, they also receive valuable pre- and post-test counseling from certified service providers.”

Many of Vermont’s anonymous testing sites offer oral testing for HIV antibodies. Oral tests take a sample of fluid from the mouth to look for signs of HIV. The test collects antibody cells that show the presence of HIV in the body. Oral testing is painless, uses no needles to collect a sample, and is as accurate as blood testing.

“People who use our approved sites get to speak one-on-one with trained staff before and after being tested,” says Copeland. “Staff at Vermont’s approved sites complete a rigorous training course developed by the CDC.”

In addition to getting their test results, people who go to a testing site learn about alternatives to risk-taking and are encouraged to consider ways they can reduce their risk. Testing sites also provide prevention information and materials that help people stop the spread of HIV. “This is critical for people at risk—regardless of the results,” says Copeland.

Vermont has 41 counseling and testing sites in 21 towns and cities that provide anonymous and/or confidential testing. “From Island Pond to Bennington, from Richford to Brattleboro, there are testing sites ready, willing and able to help,” says Copeland.

HIV is spread primarily through sex and needle or syringe sharing. Some people at increased risk include those who share needles and their sex partners, sex partners of people with HIV and people with multiple sex partners.

Women who are considering pregnancy or who are pregnant are also encouraged to seek HIV antibody testing. A mother with HIV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding, although early intervention and medical care can greatly reduce this risk.

“We are working to stop the spread of HIV with programs that help people gain knowledge and skills to adopt prevention behaviors,” says Dr. Jarris. “Obviously avoiding infection is the best thing a person can do to stay healthy.” But knowing one’s HIV status is an important part of protecting one’s health, too. “For those who may already be infected, knowledge is power. The earlier a person addresses their HIV infection, the more likely they are to maintain their health.”

To learn more about HIV testing, treatment and prevention, call toll-free from within Vermont: 800-882-AIDS (800-882-2437) or 802-863-7245. For TTY access, dial 863-7235 or 800-319-3141.