Guest column: Get tested now

Eastern Idahoans have an opportunity to take advantage of free HIV/AIDS testing this month, writes Terry Miller.

By Terry Miller

If you get HIV/AIDS, you will live with it for the rest of your life and failure to disclose your status could land you in prison.

That sounds harsh, but acquiring condoms, knowing your status and partner’s health is your responsibility. That some fail to do this may be the reason the State Health Department is offering free HIV testing this month. You do not have to be a resident of a specific district to take the test, which usually costs $60. The Idaho Falls-based District 7 will offer testing June 27. Calling 525-7245 will get you information on locations and testing times.

Pocatello’s District 6 is testing all month. Call any of their offices to make an appointment.

HIV can lead to AIDS, so it’s worth the peace of mind after 20 minutes when the blood test turns out to be negative or a wake-up call if it’s positive.

The District 7 Health Department manages 50 to 60 HIV/AIDS cases, but that figure is misleading because state case management is income-based. Those with higher incomes are given resource information, but must seek treatment and help themselves. If you test positive and are single, you will be asked to identify your partners for the past year. If married, for the past 10 years. However, there is no penalty for refusing to do so.

I don’t know why there isn’t an HIV/AIDS support group in eastern Idaho, but it sure seems like there should be. The only HIV clinic in the area is located in Pocatello, in conjunction with Idaho State University, and is headed by an Idaho Falls doctor who sees patients a couple of times a month.

HIV is not age-specific. Older people get HIV the same way younger people do and nationally about 40 percent are over the age of 50. Older people face other challenges. Doctors may assume early signs of infection are related to aging and not test for HIV. Many older people are newly single through divorce or the death of a spouse and may have ignored HIV prevention messages in the past. If they do get sick, the stigma of having HIV/AIDS can result in hiding it from family and friends.

Medical advances have resulted in new drugs that can bring HIV under control, but be prepared to pay through the nose. The single daily cocktail pill will cost more than $2,000 a month and while most are covered in part by insurance or public assistance programs, you will take that pill every day for the rest of your life.

Activists spent a lot of time in Boise this year unsuccessfully urging lawmakers to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act. I think they should also be advocating for folks to “Get tested now.”