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Hall health department offering free HIV tests
Exam includes simple swab of the cheek
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Free HIV testing

When: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Hall County Health Department district office, 1280 Athens St., Gainesville
More info: 770-535-5743

More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and one in five of those are unaware of their infection, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

In the 13-county area served by District 2 Public Health, there have been 487 cases of HIV between 1980 and 2008, said Donald Slakie, health educator with the Hall County Health Department.

"In the early stages of being infected, they have no real symptoms," Slakie said. "And so they could be infected with HIV and not know it and then unknowingly be spreading it to other people."

As part of World AIDS Day on Wednesday, the department is offering free HIV tests at the district office next door on Athens Street in Gainesville.

The test is a simple swab of the cheek, offering a result in just 20 minutes that is 99 percent accurate. If positive, it must be followed up with a blood test.

Slakie said the CDC recommends everyone between ages 13 and 65 be tested for HIV. Yet Slakie said the number of people who come out for their free tests has varied from between about five to 25.

"(The CDC) would like to see it be like a routine health exam just like when you go to the doctor for cholesterol testing or blood pressure or any of those other routine tests," he said.

The department also offers counseling before and after the test. Counselors go over what causes HIV, how people can prevent it and what the treatment options are.

Treatment has improved over the years, Slakie said. Fewer medications are needed and they don't require refrigeration like they did in the past.

"(Those with HIV are) able to live fairly normal and healthy lifestyles," Slakie said.

Tests will be offered from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.