SAN ANTONIO – The rates of people in Bexar County with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, are alarming, but experts say help and other resources are just a phone call away.
As part of KSAT’s South Texas Pride series, BEAT AIDS showed how easy it is to take an HIV test and what you should do once you know your results.
Michelle Durham, executive director of BEAT AIDS, said the organization focuses on helping many in the Alamo City with prevention, detection and treatment of the virus.
By the numbers
“We are focusing on men who have sex with men and transgender-identifying individuals, male-to-female, in San Antonio. Primarily because 70 to 79 percent of infections are among men who have sex with men,” she said. “These rates are alarming. The disproportionality is unheard of. That's why we have a focus on these populations. We have got to get this epidemic under control.”
Durham said that, nationally, one out of two black men who have sex with men, and one out of four Hispanic men who have sex with men, will become HIV infected. She said the key to eradicating the disease is raising awareness and getting people regularly tested – no matter their sexual orientation.
How easy is it to take an HIV test?
The first thing you have to do is show up. Several organizations in Bexar County, including the Metropolitan Health District, BEAT AIDS and the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, offer HIV testing for free or at a low cost.
You’ll usually be asked a series of confidential questions about your sexual history. Durham says no matter what the results are, you should prepare for anything.
“I think the main test before taking this test is we want individuals to be ready for the results, whether they find out that they're HIV-positive, meaning that they're infected with HIV, or if they find out they're HIV negative, meaning they are not infected with HIV,” she said. “The main thing is to get prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually for those results.”
The next step is getting ready for the test. There are tests in which you can get your results in as little as two minutes. Durham said the state recommends organizations use tests in which you can draw blood rather than those that use a mouth swab.
“It's a prick of the finger (and) takes less than two minutes to get the results. Here's the problem: You can't have those results … without actually taking the test. So we encourage everyone in our community to get test, get treated -- one way or the other,” Durham said.
Treatment and Prevention
If you get a positive result, Durham said, the next step is not to panic. You still need to undergo further testing to see if your test wasn’t a false positive.
“The thing to do right after you know you're going to be living with HIV is get that pill and take one pill once a day,” Durham said. “Don't have any embarrassment, get treated, get with a medical provider.”
If your test results are negative, experts say you should seek preventative measures. Condoms are one way to keep HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, at bay. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PREP, is a way of reducing your risk by more than 90 percent.
Doctors are able to prescribe PREP to those who want to reduce their risk of contracting HIV. However, it doesn’t prevent other STIs. That’s why experts recommend still undergoing testing for other diseases every three months to make sure you’re maintaining a clean bill of health.
Durham said people should remember that HIV is no longer a death sentence and treatment nowadays is far more advanced than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Eradicating the virus
San Antonio and Bexar County joined the Fast-Track Cities Initiative last December in an effort to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030. That means the city and the county are focused on three main goals in regards to HIV.
The three goals include getting 90 percent of people to know their HIV status, getting 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV on treatment plans and making sure that 90 percent of people already on treatment to have undetectable viral loads.
San Antonio and Bexar County were the first community in Texas to join the initiative.
The following is a list of places where people can get HIV testing and prevention resources:
For other resources for people of the LGBT community, click here to visit Pride Center San Antonio’s website.