Free HIV testing as part of World AIDS Day

The AIDS epidemic once captured considerable public attention, but an awareness of the dangers of HIV has largely been replaced by a sense of complacency, say health-care professionals.

While U.S. AIDS deaths have dropped to about 18,000 annually, more than 1 million Americans now live with HIV. Moreover, one in five of those with the virus don’t know they have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Knowing your HIV status is crucial,” says Turner Overton, MD, a Washington University infectious diseases specialist who treats patients with HIV/AIDS. “Early diagnosis also helps to ensure that people get the full benefit of treatment and that they do not unknowingly infect others. With newer, more effective drugs, HIV has become a chronic, manageable disease for many.”

Worldwide, an estimated 33.2 million people are living with HIV. Nationally, nearly half of all new cases occur among African-Americans. This reality holds true for the St. Louis region as well, Overton says. Locally, more than 5,300 individuals were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2009, with 53 percent of them being African-Americans.

To encourage more people to get tested for HIV, Washington University School of Medicine’s Infectious Diseases Clinic will offer extended hours for free, confidential testing in recognition of World AIDS Day, which is observed annually Dec. 1. Testing will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 6-9. No appointment is necessary.

The clinic is located at 4570 Children’s Place, between Taylor and Euclid avenues, on the School of Medicine campus. Participants will receive a rapid HIV test using a finger prick to obtain a drop of blood. Results will be available 20 minutes after testing.

The clinic also offers regular walk-in hours for HIV testing Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m.; and Friday from 9-11 a.m.

Anyone testing positive can be connected with the free Linkage to Care service, which provides education, support and referrals to HIV medical care. Those who are uninsured may receive medical care at the university’s Infectious Diseases Clinic through a Ryan White grant.

The free testing offered by the Washington University clinic is funded, in part, by the CDC. For more information about the free HIV testing, call (314) 747-1237 or (314) 747-1244.