Over one million people in the United States have HIV/AIDS, and Florida ranks third in the country with the number of people with full-blown AIDS. Out of the 125,000 Floridians living with HIV about 20 percent do not know they’ve got the virus. Today in downtown Tampa, the Hillsborough County Health Department offered free screening tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in recognition of National HIV Testing and Counseling Day.

25 years ago, the world did not know about AIDS, yet over half of all new infections happen in people who were born around or after June 1981, when the then-unheard of disease surfaced. While the highest concentrations of the disease occur in blacks, the virus does not discriminate.

ACT: It’s a growing disease that’s hitting all the communities and there’s a lot of people that are not aware… That was Hillsborough County Health Department medical assistant Maritza Acosta. She says that in an average day the county’s STD clinic sees between 50 and 70 HIV positive patients. Today, with two and a half hours to go until the free screening ended, 40 people had come for testing. They came from all walks of life: teenagers, mothers, businesspeople.

After filling out paperwork and having an interview with an infections specialist, the blood-testing and physical exam happens behind closed doors. STD clinician Frances Lima says that anyone who is sexually active even in a monogamous relationship should be tested.

ACT: It’s goingto be scary…. It’s so much better to know… don’t want to infect others.

Nurse Lima also recommends getting tested before having sex with new partners.

ACT: We tell people that when you have sex with someone you’re trusting them with your life.

After a two to three week wait, patients can check their STD test results on a telephone hotline, but HIV test results are only given in person. There is also an HIV rapid test, with results available within 20 to 40 minutes. If the results come back positive, county health provides patient care on a monthly basis. Grants are available for those who do not have health insurance to cover the costs of the many drugs needed to keep the virus under control.

One young mother came today for testing because her ex-partner and the father of her two children slept around. She says she gets tested every six months because she knows the virus can lay dormant for months.

ACT: Interview

Hillsborough County has over two thousand people infected with HIV only. Those with AIDS in the county totals over six thousand.

The county STD clinic is located in the Hillsborough County Health Department at 1105 East Kennedy Boulevard, downtown Tampa. For more information call 813 307 8064.

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