Free HIV tests offered today

Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2000

Since 1982, 240 of the 449 AIDS cases in Alaska have led to death.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was ranked 11th among the leading causes of death in the United States in 1993, according to a state Division of Public Health Report. In 1996, AIDS was ranked as the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States, and AIDS ranked as the leading cause of death for persons aged 24 to 44 nationwide from 1992 to 1995.

Although the numbers are eye-opening, Alaska has a low incidence of HIV infection -- the virus that causes AIDS -- with 29 individuals reported as newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 1999, the report said.

A Soldotna organization is joining the fight to help fight infection. The Planned Parenthood of Alaska Soldotna Center will provide free, confidential HIV testing today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a walk-in basis.

Jennifer Cowan, co-manager of the Soldotna center, said the free testing is an annual event and part of the nationwide AIDS awareness campaign.

"It is something we are able to do as a clinic and something we are more than willing to do," she said.

Cowan said she has noticed HIV testing no longer has a stigma, and it has become a part of screening for many responsible people. HIV testing does not indicate behavior, she said, it is just a baseline screening.

The test takes about 10 minutes. While taking the test, clients are educated about the importance of testing. Test results will be available in two to three weeks in the office; they are not available by phone.

Testing is an important factor in many cases.

"There are a lot of reasons to be tested," said public health specialist Noel Rea of the state Division of Public Health in Anchorage. "One of which is for those who are infected, they can receive care. There are many treatments available now that can control the virus in a lot of people. It's also important to know if you are infected so you don't spread it to other people."

Normally, the test costs between $15 and $25, depending on which lab tests are sent to.

If tests are sent to the state lab in Fairbanks, results take about two to three weeks. If the tests are done through the lab at Central Peninsula General Hospital, results are available within three to five days.

Another test, not involving needles and not offered today, is Orasure. This test is taken through the mucosa against the cheek and gum line, Cowan said, adding that it is just as accurate as a blood test.

"We are hoping we can convert over to that test," she said, "I would love that."

With Orasure, there is less risk for contamination or needle sticks.

Test results do not list patients' names, for confidentially reasons.

Planned Parenthood also provides reproductive health care, sexually transmitted disease testing, lab work and all available contraceptives.

If a patient's HIV results are positive, Planned Parenthood will provide initial counseling, then recommend the client to Alaska AIDS Assistance Association.

But Cowan has not yet had to refer anyone. "We are grateful for that," she said

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