Free HIV testing offered Thursday in Bel Air

In observance of the 2013 National HIV Testing Day, the Harford County Health Department will offer anonymous, no-cost HIV testing on a "walk-in" basis on Thursday, June 27, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Health Services Division office on the top floor of 1 N. Main St. in Bel Air.

The National HIV Testing Day observance is designed to increase awareness among all populations and to encourage everyone to be tested. Early diagnosis, testing and counseling are critical to obtaining appropriate care and treatment. An estimated 29,642 Marylanders are diagnosed and known to be living with HIV/AIDS and, according to CDC estimates, approximately 7,500 people in Maryland are HIV positive and are not aware of their status.

Registered nurse Cindy Dawson, director of the Harford County Health Department Health Services Division, reminds the public that, "Knowing your HIV status is the first step in taking control of your life. Getting appropriate care and medical management for HIV disease allows many individuals to lead full lives, working, raising their families, and participating in our communities. Getting a positive HIV test result allows an individual to begin dealing with the disease and taking charge of his or her health. The Harford County Health Department offers a variety of services free of charge to individuals and families living with HIV including medical care for those who qualify."

Maryland ranked second among states and territories in 2010 for the rate of people living with AIDS. In addition, Maryland ranks fourth for HIV diagnosis by state and the Baltimore metropolitan area has the fifth highest rate of HIV infection in the nation. Nationally, the CDC estimated that 1.2 million adults were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2009, and 20 percent of them did not know their HIV status. Over half of newly infected Americans are under the age of 25 and approximately 48,000 new infections occur each year in the United States. National Testing Day presents an opportunity for people to learn their HIV status, and to gain knowledge necessary to take control of their health and their lives.

Many of the undiagnosed 250,000 Americans who are unknowingly living with HIV do not think that they are at risk for this disease and some would rather not know. All could extend their lives simply by taking the HIV test. Individuals who have never been tested, have had any type of unprotected sexual contact or shared a needle for any reason in their lifetime are strongly encouraged to take an HIV test. People living with HIV who are not receiving treatment may not experience any symptoms of AIDS for 10 or more years, making it especially important to be tested. Says Dawson, "Take the test and take control."

"Knowledge is power, and HIV counseling and testing provides everyone with the power to protect their own health as well as the health of their partners," Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly said. "All of us envision a day when Harford County has no new HIV infections."

The Harford County Health Department offers free HIV testing throughout the year by appointment. Individuals should call 410-638-3060 for more details or to schedule an appointment if they are unable to take advantage of services on June 27.

For additional information, contact the Harford County Health Department Division of Health Services, 410-638-3060, or contact the Health Department, or 410-612-1771.

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