It’s free, confidential and takes only minutes. And getting an HIV test “is the only way to know you have it,” says Tony Quintana, a prevention and education counselor with the University of New Mexico’s Truman Health Services.
The state’s largest HIV primary care clinic and the New Mexico Department of Health will provide the free tests on June 27, National HIV Testing Day.
The confidential tests will be available from 7:00 a.m. to noon in the health department's testing RV, which will be located on Albuquerque’s West Side, at Central Ave. and 60th Street. The first 30 people tested will receive a Sonic gift card.
UNM Truman Health Services will also offer free rapid HIV testing at EFFEX Nightclub later that night from 9 p.m. to midnight. EFFEX is located at 100 5th Street SW.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says some 1.1 million plus Americans live with HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Of those living with the virus, one in six are unaware they have it, and they could be unintentionally spreading it.
“The symptoms are either non-existent, or they are often mistaken for the flu,” says Quintana.
He adds that taking the test now will also help those with an HIV diagnosis get treatment quickly and slow down the progression of the virus, which can lead to AIDS.
The CDC generally recommends that health care providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years at least once as part of routine care. But Truman Health Services counselors encourage people who engage in risky behaviors like unprotected sex and intravenous drug use to get tested every three to six months.
Quintana says getting some people to take an HIV test can be a challenge due to stigmas associated with the virus. “If everyone is getting tested then nobody will have to worry about getting stigmatized or people making assumptions about others,” explains Quintana.
But Quintana adds it’s not just a stigma that holds people back from taking the HIV test; it is also fear. “They fear it’s a death sentence. It’s not. Life expectancy is generally the same as long as you are in care and taking your medications.”
UNM Truman Health Services regularly offers free confidential testing at its clinic, 801 Encino Place, Building F, in Albuquerque on Tuesdays from 8:00 a.m. to noon and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Appointments for HIV testing are available - please call 505-925-7286 or email THSoutreach@unmmg.org for more information.