News

County steps up the fight against HIV

By PAT JENKINS

The Mirror

Despite an apparent leveling off of new cases of HIV in King County, health officials want checkups for everyone who is at risk of being infected with the illness that causes AIDS.

Thousands of King County residents are among the estimated 250,000 people in the United States who have HIV but don’t know it, officials said. Once diagnosed, carriers can take prescribed medications to keep themselves healthy for years, as well as guard against passing the infection to others.

“Regular and frequent HIV testing is of utmost importance for men who have sex with men, injection (hypodermic needle) drug users, and others at higher risk for HIV infection,” said Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. 

Testing, plus “consistent condom use and disclosure of HIV status” to sexual partners, can help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, Plough said in conjunction with last Sunday’s National HIV Testing Day. 

According to the Health Department, cases and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and risky sexual behavior are at “very high levels” and continue to increase.

The same number of new cases in the county this year isn’t expected to top the 96 new outbreaks in 2003, but “that’s still too high,” said James Apa, a Health Department spokesman.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a lifelong infection and the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Everyone infected with HIV can spread it to others through unprotected sex, sharing needles and donating blood or organs.

Infected mothers can spread HIV to newborns, although modern treatments nearly eliminate that possibility, officials said.

“HIV tests are highly accurate and better than ever before,” said Dr. Bob Wood, head of the Health Department’s HIV/AIDS program.

Information about testing is available from the department and appointments can be made at (206) 205-7837 or 1-800-678-1595. Information is also available at www.metrokc.gov/health/apu/resources/testing.htm

Anonymous and confidential tests have been given by the department at its clinics, including in Federal Way, since 1985.

The department sponsored a free HIV information booth last Sunday along the Gay Pride Parade route in Seattle.

“Knowledge is power,” said County Executive Ron Sims. “If you haven’t been tested recently and are at risk, now is the time to do it.”

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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