“Take the Test - Take Control” VT Participates in National HIV Testing Day Campaign

For Immediate Release: June 24, 2004

Contact: Susanna Weller, MPH
HIV/AIDS Program Acting Director
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON - June 27 marks National HIV Testing Day - the day when people at risk of HIV infection are encouraged to seek voluntary HIV counseling and testing with the slogan “Take the Test - Take Control.”

The Vermont Department of Health is collaborating with the National Association of People with AIDS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and local community partners to promote HIV antibody testing among people at risk in Vermont.

“Avoiding infection is the best thing a person can do to stay healthy,” says Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris. “We are working to stop the spread of HIV with programs that help people develop knowledge and skills to adopt prevention behaviors.”

“Knowing your HIV status through testing is an important part of protecting your health too,” he continues. “Especially for those who may already be infected, it is better to know.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as many as 280,000 people in the United States are living with HIV and do not know they are infected. For people who are HIV positive, getting tested is often the first step in taking control of their lives and health.

“One reason that HIV testing is so important is the prevention counseling people receive at state approved sites,” says Jarris. “This helps them reduce their risk of infecting themselves or their partners.”

“The treatment of HIV disease has improved so dramatically in recent years,” says Jarris, “That is another reason why testing for HIV is so important. If people are already infected and don’t know it, they can’t take advantage of treatment options that can greatly reduce the effects of HIV or postpone the onset of AIDS.”

There are four comprehensive care clinics, community partners with the Vermont Department of Health, offering a full range of medical services for people living with HIV/AIDS at hospitals in Burlington, Brattleboro, Rutland and Saint Johnsbury.

Deborah Kutzko RN, FNP of the Comprehensive Care Clinics agrees with Commissioner Jarris. “Now more than ever, testing is the first step towards health for people already infected with HIV,” says Kutzko. “People with HIV can live long productive lives with the medications available,” she says, “but the first step to treatment is testing.”

Making testing widely available, keeping it voluntary and free helps reduce barriers. “We have spent several years developing a statewide system that offers safe, accessible and free HIV testing,” says Susanna Weller, MPH, acting director of the Vermont Department of Health HIV/AIDS Program. “There are 43 sites in 20 towns and cities where Vermonters can get free testing,” says Weller.

With National HIV Testing Day falling on a Sunday this year, campaign organizers were quick to acknowledge that many people won’t be able to access testing on that day itself. “But this campaign is bigger than just that one day,” says Weller. “It provides the opportunity to promote HIV testing and provide information about accessing testing not just on June 27, but all this week, next week and in the future,” she continues.

Although their offices will be closed on June 27, the Vermont Department of Health has implemented a promotional campaign that began this week and includes informational resources that will be accessible 24/7. According to Weller, “People with web access can visit our site at www.healthyvermonters.info and click on the HIV testing icon to find the testing sites in their area.”

“We’ve also worked with Public Health Nurses in most of our District Offices to place public service announcements in newspapers and on radio and public access TV stations to promote testing statewide,” says Weller. She adds, “Some of our community partners are also extending testing services on the day after Testing Day.”

Vermont CARES (Committee for AIDS Resources, Education and Services), is one of the organizations that delivers state approved HIV testing and other services for people affected by HIV/AIDS. Kelly Brigham, Program Specialist for Prevention at Vermont CARES says, “We will acknowledge National Testing Day on June 28th by sending thirteen testers to over ten sites in four different counties around the state.”

HIV is spread primarily through sex and needle or syringe sharing. Women who are considering pregnancy or who are pregnant are also encouraged to ask their medical provider about HIV 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.

For information on HIV testing call toll-free from within Vermont 800-882-AIDS (800-882-2437) or for hearing impaired TTY access, dial 800-319-3141 (open weekdays from 8:30-4:30).

For information 24/7 visit www.healthyvermonters.info or call the National AIDS Hotline at 800-342-2437.