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Free HIV tests offered island-wide to mark HIV Testing Week

Health Care 26 Jun, 2023 Follow News

Free HIV tests offered island-wide to mark HIV Testing Week

The Health Services Authority (HSA), Cayman AIDS Foundation and the Cayman Islands Red Cross will again join forces in coordinating activities to mark HIV Testing Week to be observed in the Cayman Islands from 26-30 June. This is in support of the National Testing Day on 27 June. The theme for 2023 is “Take the Test & Take the Next Step.”

“Testing is a crucial part of the efforts to stop HIV. Testing for HIV is quick, free, confidential, and accessible. People can live with HIV for a long time without symptoms, so testing is the only way to know your HIV status. If you have HIV, you can take the next step by finding ways to start treatment, stay healthy, and avoid passing the virus onto anyone else,” said Nurse Jennifer Miller, Interim HIV and STI Programme Coordinator at the HSA.

Free HIV testing centres will be available across all three Cayman Islands (see schedule attached). Persons seeking testing or counseling may indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for free HIV testing. The procedure involves a quick and simple blood test. No appointment is necessary during the specified times on the HIV schedule and wait times will be short.

The results will be available within three working days or less and given to the patient in person only at the clinic where they took the test. This is to protect the individual’s confidentiality and offer post-test counseling.

Since AIDS first appeared, considerable progress has been made worldwide in reducing new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. “Knowing your HIV status is key and this is done through testing,” Ms. Miller said. According to The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), new HIV infections have been reduced by 54% since the peak in 1996.

In 2021, around 1.5 million people were newly infected with HIV, compared to 3.2 million people in 1996. Since 2010, new HIV infections have declined by 32%, from 2.2 million to 1.5 million in 2021.

Side Bar

What is HIV? 

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

You can have HIV and not know it.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is a virus transmitted through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections. These special cells help the immune system fight off infections.

If untreated, HIV reduces the immune system making it harder and harder for the body to fight infections and other diseases. Some infections or cancers take advantage of a fragile immune system and signal that the person has AIDS.

How do I know if I have HIV?

The only way to know whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is essential because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent contracting or transmitting HIV.

Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after infection; however, some may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. Other illnesses can cause each of these symptoms. However, if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a healthcare provider and tell them about your risk.

The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV.

How is HIV transmitted?

• Through unprotected sex with someone who has HIV. 

• Your sex partner can have HIV and not know it.

• By sharing needles or syringes that someone with HIV has already used.

• Women with HIV can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding.

You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. People commonly get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.

How can I protect myself?

Know your HIV status.

Have a sexual relationship with only one uninfected person who is having sex with only you.

Use a condom for all sexual encounters.

Do not share any needles.

You CANNOT get HIV from:

• Social contact- shaking hands, touching, hugging someone with HIV

• coughing or sneezing

• tears, saliva, or sweat

• sharing drinking glasses, plates, forks, knives, or spoons

• using public bathrooms and drinking fountains

• mosquito bites or other bug bites

• swimming pools or hot tubs

• pets

HIV Testing

If you think you have HIV or believe you are at high risk of contracting HIV - get an HIV test. The test is safe and private. You do not have to give your name if you do not want to.

What is HIV Testing?

The HIV test looks for antigens and antibodies in a person’s blood. When HIV (a virus) enters the body, special chemicals are produced. These chemicals are called antigens and antibodies, the body’s response to an infection.

What does HIV testing involve?

A small blood sample will be taken from your arm, sent to a laboratory, and tested for HIV antigens and antibodies. The test is always strictly confidential.

What is a positive HIV test?

HIV positive means that antigens and antibodies to HIV were detected and a confirmatory test must be completed to diagnose HIV. This test is sent overseas and may take up to 10 days to return.

What is a negative HIV test?

HIV negative means that no HIV antigens and antibodies were detected. In almost all cases, the person is not infected with HIV. With the fourth generation testing that HSA uses called HIV Combo (HIV antigen and Antibody testing), the previously known window period of three months has been reduced to 2-6 weeks.

The test is only accurate if there are no other exposures between possible exposure to HIV and testing.

If you are unable to attend the scheduled walk-in clinic for free HIV testing, you can make an appointment for confidential testing at:

• Public Health Clinic   244-2648

• George Town General Practice Clinic, Cayman Islands Hospital 244-2800/244-2507

• Faith Hospital (Cayman Brac) 948-2243

• HSA District Health Centres

• Cayman Islands Red Cross, Cayman Corporate Centre

• A private doctor

For further information about HIV, call HIV and STI Programme Coordinator Ms Jennifer Miller at 938 4703 or consult your doctor.

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