Vermonters at Risk of HIV Urged To Get Free Test

For Immediate Release: June 26, 2002
Contact: Rod Copeland, Ph.D.
HIV/AIDS Program Director

BURLINGTON, VT—Federal health officials estimate that more than 200,000 Americans are living with HIV and don’t know it because they’ve never been tested.

“And some of them,” according to Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Jan K. Carney, “live right here in Vermont.”

Thursday, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day, and Dr. Carney wants to get the word out.

“We are trying to reach those who may be at risk for HIV and persuade them to get tested,” she said. “We want them to get treatment if they need it and we want them to have the knowledge necessary to prevent this disease in others.”

Health officials throughout the country are recommending that anyone who has engaged in a risky behavior, or who has ever had a partner who has done so, should seek testing. Risky behavior includes sharing needles used for tattooing, drugs or any other purpose. It also includes unsafe or unprotected sex with one or multiple partners.

Dr. Carney noted that testing also provides a counseling opportunity to assist those who are engaging in high-risk behavior to reduce their risk and an opportunity to refer them to other prevention services.

Since the Health Department began collecting statistics on AIDS cases in the early 1980s, 426 cases among people who were Vermont residents at the time of diagnosis had been reported as of mid June, according to Rod Copeland, HIV/AIDS program director at the Health Department. Approximately half of these people are living.

The department has been collecting statistics on HIV infection only since March, 2000. As of mid June, the cumulative total (not including those diagnosed with AIDS) was 163 individuals infected with HIV who were Vermont residents at the time of diagnosis.

“That’s the official count,” said Copeland, “but the actual number changes as people counted in other states move here and Vermonters counted by us move away.”

In addition, Copeland said, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as a third of people who have HIV don’t know it, which suggests that the actual number in Vermont is significantly higher than the reported number.

Thanks to medical advances in recent years, Vermonters living with HIV have better health care options than ever before, but the key to maintaining health is early detection. Those who defer testing tend to get sicker and die earlier than those who don't.

In addition, testing has become easier and more accessible than ever. Vermonters who wish to be tested may choose among 41 sites, 28 of which offer anonymous testing -- no name or address given.

Copeland said that oral tests for HIV are available at 13 of these locations and can be taken outside health care settings to help ensure privacy. Oral tests, equivalent to the blood test in accuracy, eliminate the need for needles, and are painless.

To learn more, call toll-free from within Vermont: 800-882-AIDS (800-882-2437) or 802-863-7245. For TTY access, dial 863-7235 or 800-319-3141.