Northwest Colorado Health: Test, prevent, treat
National HIV Testing Day encourages people to get tested, know their HIV status and take steps to prevent or treat the virus. This message is more powerful than ever thanks to medications used to prevent and treat HIV.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system. Untreated, it progresses to AIDS, the most severe stage of infection when a person’s immune system can no longer fight illness. HIV spreads through certain body fluids — people most often get it through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use. A pregnant woman also can pass the virus to her child.
One in seven people who have HIV do not know they are living with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once as part of routine health care. Some individuals may need to be tested more frequently.
Most health insurance covers HIV screening. People who don’t have insurance can get tested for free at Northwest Colorado Health’s clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig.
All individuals should discuss their risk for HIV with a health care provider. Learn more about risk factors at cdc.gov/hivrisk.
Condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If a person has a particularly high risk of getting HIV, a health care provider may also recommend pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that significantly reduces a person’s chance of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP is only for HIV; it does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections.
Individuals who think they may have been exposed to HIV should contact a health care provider as soon as possible to determine if they need post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If started within 72 hours, PEP medication can prevent the virus from taking hold.
It’s important victims of sexual assault talk to their health care provider or emergency room doctor about PEP. People prescribed PEP following a sexual assault may qualify for partial or total reimbursement for the medicine and clinical care costs through the Office for Victims of Crime.
If a person tests positive for HIV, they can begin antiretroviral therapy (ART). If taken every day, exactly as prescribed, this medication can reduce viral load – the amount of HIV in a person’s blood. This keeps the virus from growing and helps prevent a person from transmitting it to a sexual partner. The medication also can reduce risk of a pregnant woman passing HIV to her child.
To make an appointment for a free HIV test or to discuss HIV risk, prevention medications or treatment with a health care provider, call 970-824-8233 in Craig or 970-879-1632 in Steamboat Springs.
This article includes information from hiv.gov.
The history of Northwest Colorado has no shortage of fascinating characters. A.G. and Augusta Wallihan are no exception.