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25K Ohioans live with HIV: How health districts raise awareness

Britney Bruce, the  nursing supervisor of the Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic at the Clark County Combined Health District, prepares an HIV rapid test.
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO
Britney Bruce, the nursing supervisor of the Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic at the Clark County Combined Health District, prepares an HIV rapid test.

Clark County public health nurses worked to raise awareness of HIV and encourage testing for the virus on Monday.

It was national HIV testing day, when local health departments go out to communities and bring awareness of HIV testing and prevention.

At the Southern Village Clinic in Springfield, public health nurses asked people walking by if they wanted to get tested for HIV.

HIV is a virus that weakens a person's immune system — it can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. It can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact or sharing needles.

Over 25,000 people in Ohio live with HIV. In Clark County about 164 people tested positive in 2020, but those numbers are rising along with a local outbreak of syphilis, according to Britney Bruce, nursing supervisor at the Clark County Combined Health District.

That’s concerning, Bruce said, because the effects of syphilis on the body aren’t immediately noticeable and people with it can also have a high probability of a co-infection with HIV.

She added talking about it can be uncomfortable, but there’s options.

“There's so many medications and treatments for HIV now that if you become positive and you are living with HIV, if you're taking your medication, seeing your doctor regularly, you can live just as long a life as anybody else,” Bruce said.

People in the age range of 20 to 35 have some of the highest numbers of infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But anyone can get infected.

“Everybody's at risk for this virus, it's not just one particular group,” Bruce said. “Everybody's doing the same thing. The thing is, you're doing the most responsible thing by getting tested. And that's the important thing.”

A key part of preventing infection is education, said Bruce. Followed by consistent testing for sexually transmitted diseases with new partners.

Additionally, just this year the Clark County Combined Health District began providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — a medication that can help an HIV-negative person from getting infected.

Community members can find out how to get tested, make an appointment at the Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic and more at the Clark County Combined Health District website or by calling 937-390-5600.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America. He particularly covers the efforts by local organizations and government agencies to address a problem that has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.