Health

County Residents Encouraged to Get Tested, Treated for HIV

group of people Image Credit: getting2zerosd.com

Test. Treat. Prevent.

These are the three main strategies of the County Health and Human Services Agency’s (HHSA) Getting to Zero initiative to end new HIV infections in the region within 10 years.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and County health officials are encouraging people to get tested and to ask their doctor about getting pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP to prevent them from getting the virus.

“One out of every 11 San Diego County residents who is HIV positive does not know it,” said Patrick Loose, chief of the HHSA HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch. “Everyone 18 and over should get tested, whether they think they are at risk or not.”

More than 33 percent of area residents living with HIV are not getting treatment for the virus and could infect others.

Getting tested is easy to do. You can ask your doctor to perform the HIV test during a routine physical exam or you can go to a County STD clinic and have it done there. In most circumstances, you will generally have the results in 20 minutes or less.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, about 15,000 San Diego County residents have been diagnosed with AIDS. Since 2006, more than 5,400 residents have been diagnosed with HIV disease.

Advances in medication and treatment have helped people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Moreover, persons who are successfully treated cannot transmit HIV sexually to others. The annual number of deaths among persons with HIV has declined by 87 percent since 1994, when the highest number of AIDS deaths was reported.

PrEP Can Reduce Risk of Getting HIV

County health officials are also encouraging residents to reduce their risk of getting HIV by getting pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP, which can be 99 percent effective when used daily.

PrEP requires HIV-negative people to take the medication daily to help protect them from getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact or injection drug use. Prophylaxis means to prevent or control the spread of an infection or disease. PrEP can be prescribed only by a doctor or health care provider, but there are programs available that help uninsured and underinsured individuals access PrEP with little or no cost. A PrEP Navigator can be reached at 619-692-6621, to provide more information or even schedule an appointment with a care provider.

Also, you must take an HIV test before beginning PrEP, to be sure you don’t already have HIV, and every 3 months while you’re taking it, so you’ll have to get regular follow-ups. Before you start PrEP, your doctor should also test your kidneys to make sure they are working well.

“HIV can be prevented,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “When people with HIV are receiving appropriate treatment, they are highly unlikely to transmit the virus to others.”

Testing people for HIV and encouraging those who test negative but are vulnerable to HIV to get on PrEP are part of Live Well San Diego, the County’s vision to improve the health and well-being of local residents.

To learn more about HIV and AIDS and testing locations, visit www.stdsandiego.org.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact