Vermont officials urge HIV-AIDS testing

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(Host) Vermont health officials are gearing up for National HIV and AIDS testing day on Friday. Officials say while the total number of AIDS cases in Vermont remains steady, the incidence of the disease among intravenous drug users continues to increase.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) More than 40 counseling and testing sites will be open around the state Friday to administer tests for the HIV virus and the disease it leads to, AIDS. While the tests are available year round, health officials say designating Friday as national testing day is an opportunity to get the word out about the importance of AIDS testing. They say the people most at risk are the hardest to reach.

Rod Copeland of the Vermont Health Department’s HIV-AIDS Program says while the incidence of the disease is decreasing among some groups, there’s been a rise among those who use drugs like heroin.

(Copeland) “People who inject drugs, particularly young women, are getting infected at a higher rate. And again, people who are sexual partners of people who inject drugs, we believe that those rates are going up.”

(Zind) Each year about 20 Vermonters test positive for the HIV and AIDS. Copeland says in too many cases the disease is not diagnosed early enough.

(Copeland) “We’re very disappointed in a statistic in Vermont that we still have too many people that have AIDS and it’s never been detected. They’ve been to their family practitioner and it simply hasn’t been diagnosed. That’s troubling.”

(Zind) Copeland estimates at least 600 people in Vermont are infected with the HIV or AIDS. Kendall Farrell is Executive Director of Vermont Cares. The organization provides advocacy, counseling and treatment referral services for people with AIDS. Farrell says lately there’s been a dramatic increase in the demand for those services.

(Farrell) “People who may have known their status but are now seeking services has increased drastically. In the last year Vermont Cares has seen over 150% increase in the number of people who are coming to access services.”

(Zind) Farrell says oral tests introduced in Vermont two years ago have led to an increase in the number of people being tested. The oral tests are just as accurate as blood testing for HIV and AIDS. Names of people taking the tests are kept confidential. The test can also be taken anonymously. Vermont has a toll free AIDS information line. The number is (800) 882-AIDS.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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