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In Honor of National HIV Testing Day, #KnowYourStatus

Saturday is National HIV Testing Day. But let’s face it – sexually active people aren’t just at risk for HIV.

In fact, other sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis C, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have spiked in some communities nationwide, especially among gay and bisexual men.

Rhode Island is the most recent state to make the news for an uptick in STIs. So this HIV Testing Day, why not be tested for other STDs as well?

Contrary to popular belief, Hepatitis C can be contracted via sex, particularly among men who have sex with men. HIV-positive men are at an increased risk for transmission. Hepatitis C can be deadly if left untreated, but today, modern medications can cure most everyone of Hepatitis C, and with few side effects.

Some people can go 30 years with Hepatitis C without even knowing they have it. It can take three decades to develop symptoms.

“It is essential that you as a patient have an honest conversation with your physician about concerns you may have about a potentially curable infection, such as Hepatitis C, or HIV, which is not curable but very manageable,” said Dr. Robert Bilkovski, senior associate director, medical affairs, Molecular Diagnostics, Abbott. “If you don’t know if you’re infected you can spread disease and have the disease get worse.”

Abbott led the way in developing HIV tests many years ago, and today has tests for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, chlamydia/gonorrhea, and HPV.

“If a patient is exposed to Hepatitis B, there is an acute phase that can go unnoticed,” Bilkovski said. “The patient may feel crappy, but (the symptoms, not the disease) goes away.”

He noted that only 30 percent of those infected with Hepatitis B proceed to the chronic phase. About 75 to 85 percent of people with Hepatitis C proceed to the chronic phase.

There are vaccinations for both Hepatitis A and B, so anyone who believes they are at risk should ask their doctor about getting them.

Detroit ASO Takes Testing Bars and Bathhouses

Meanwhile, OraSure has developed a rapid test for HCV, something that took many years to occur after the onset of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. Some AIDS services organizations, such as Michigan AIDS Coalition (MAC), now offer the rapid HCV tests along with the rapid HIV tests.

In fact, the Michigan AIDS Coalition recently won a grant to launch a new pilot project for reaching out to at-risk groups for testing of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Hepatitis C in addition to its longstanding screening for HIV and Syphilis. The testing began June 1.

MAC’s six outreach workers actually perform the testing in bars and bathhouses around the Detroit area. They focus on testing young, black gay and bisexual men, which is the demographic nationally with the highest rates of HIV infection.

All of the tests are rapid tests with the exception of the Syphilis test. Blood is drawn for that test.

Terry Ryan, executive director of MAC, said the outreach workers have built a lot of trust with those who frequent the bars and bathhouses in the Detroit area. He said his workers actually approach men and encourage them to be tested – they don’t just sit at card tables.

He said the HIV results among black MSM in Detroit tends to be 4 percent – about twice the state average.

And even with PrEP available as a new prevention tools, he’s still seeing increases in HIV, and STIs.

“I absolutely see PrEP as a tool for HIV prevention,” but added, “Most gay men will use every excuse not to use condoms.”

He knows it’s not a popular opinion, but said he does believe that PrEP use may be leading to an increase in STIs.

He said Detroit already has seen a “huge syphilis epidemic’ among black MSM.

But he said he still thinks PrEP should be available to everyone who needs it, as HIV infection is far worse than an STI.

Abbott Doc: Use Barrier Protection, Clean Needles

Dr. Bilkovski stressed that using safe sexual practices such as “barrier protection” (condoms) is the best way to prevent contracting sexually transmitted disease. For bloodborne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis, clean needles should always be used among injection drug users to prevent infection.

The Gerstacker Foundation, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, and The Jewish Fund – providing nearly $60,000 per year in support – fund the two-year MAC project. 

Meanwhile, The Global Fund, an organization dedicated to overcoming AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, selected Abbott as one of seven diagnostic companies to help provide affordable, high-quality infectious disease testing to low and middle income countries. Under the agreement, Abbott will offer its HIV viral load tests – which monitor the amount of HIV in a person's blood – at reduced prices to help provide access to quality care in high-burden countries affected by this virus. Abbott also committed to extend similar pricing for additional infectious disease tests.

 Get Tested for HIV For Free Saturday at Walgreens

Whether you live in New York City, Los Angeles, or even Davenport, Iowa, chances are you can be tested for HIV for free Saturday “At the Corner of Happy and Healthy.”

Walgreens has teamed up with Greater than AIDS to offer testing from 3-7 p.m. today (Friday, June 26) and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (June 27) at 150 stores across the U.S. Click here to see if your local Walgreens is on the list.

You can learn more about the free testing initiative in this news release.