[caption id="attachment_11802" align="alignleft" width="300"] HIV and STI Programme Coordinator Laura Elniski[/caption]The Health Services Authority (HSA) and the Cayman Islands Red Cross will once again join forces in coordinating free HIV testing to mark HIV Testing Week which will be observed in the Cayman Islands from June 21st-25th.Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have set the world back in the fight against ending AIDS by 2030, the AIDS crisis helped us to handle COVID-19 and many medical experts compared the two pandemics, said HIV and STI Programme Coordinator Laura Elniski. We could see an HIV resurgent because of the COVID crisis, therefore we urge persons to come out and take advantage of the free and confidential HIV testing.A recent UNAIDS report shows that countries with progressive laws and policies and strong and inclusive health systems have had the best outcomes against HIV. In those countries, people living with and affected by HIV are more likely to have access to effective HIV services, including HIV testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis (medicine to help prevent HIV), harm reduction, multi-month supplies of HIV treatment and consistent, quality follow-up and care. The Cayman Islands ensure to provide all the above.The Cayman Islands join the rest of the world to focus attention on the importance of accelerating the response to HIV over the next five years to set the world on course to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.Four decades after the first cases of AIDS were reported, it remains a major public health crisis and only a few countries meet the 909090 UNAIDS target for 2020. At the end 2019, 77% of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean knew their status, 81% of diagnosed people were on treatment and 80% of those on antiretroviral therapy were virally suppressed. A survey conducted by PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS) in the Caribbean showed that during 2020, facility-and community- based HIV testing services reduced by two-thirds (69%) in countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, HSA and the Cayman Islands Red Cross encourage the public to take advantage of the countrys HIV and AIDS support services and book an appointment to get tested by contacting Laura Elniski at laura.elniski@hsa.ky or 244-2507, or Health Promotion Officer Therese Prehay at 244-2632. HIV Testing week provides an opportunity to educate the public about prevention and protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as free testing to know ones status.  The testing procedure involves a quick and simple blood test. Persons who are seeking testing or counselling can indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for free HIV testing. The results will be available within three working days or less and will be given to the patient only. Side Bar What is HIV?  

  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
  • You can have HIV and not know it.
  How is HIV transmitted?
  • HIV is a virus transmitted through four body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk) that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections. These special cells help the immune system fight off infections.
  • If untreated HIV reduces the immune system making it harder and harder for the body to fight off infections and some other diseases. Some infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS.
How do I know if I have HIV?
  • The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Knowing your status is important because it helps you make healthy decisions to prevent contracting or transmitting HIV.
  • Some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after infection however some people may not feel sick during this stage. Flu-like symptoms include fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth ulcers.
  • These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During this time, HIV infection may not show up on an HIV test, but people who have it are highly infectious and can spread the infection to others.
  • If you have these symptoms, that does not mean you have HIV. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses. But if you have these symptoms after a potential exposure to HIV, see a health care provider and tell them about your risk.
  • The only way to determine whether you are infected is to be tested for HIV infection.
How is HIV transmitted?
  • Through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex with someone who has HIV. Your sex partner can have HIV and not know it.
  • By sharing needles or syringes, that have already been used by someone who has HIV.
  • Women with HIV can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
  How can I protect myself?
  • Know your HIV status
  • Have a sexual relationship with only one uninfected person, who is having sex with only you.
  • Correct and consistent condom use for all sexual encounters
  • Do not share any kind of needles
  You can NOT get HIV from:
  • Social contact- shaking hands, touching, hugging someone with HIV
  • coughing or sneezing
  • tears, saliva or sweat
  • sharing drinking glasses, plates, forks, knives, or spoons
  • using public bathrooms and drinking fountains
  • mosquito bites or other bug bites
  • swimming pools or hot tubs
  • pets
  • mosquitoes
HIV Testing If you think you have HIV or believe you are at high risk of contracting HIV - get an HIV test. The test is safe and private. You do not have to give your name if you do not want to. What is HIV Testing? The HIV test looks for antigens and antibodies in a person’s blood. When HIV (which is a virus) enters a body, special chemicals are produced. These chemicals are called antigens and antibodies, which are the body’s response to an infection.
  • What does HIV testing involve?
A small sample of blood will be taken from your arm, sent to a laboratory, and tested for HIV antigens and antibodies. The test is always strictly confidential.
  • What is a positive HIV test?
HIV positive means that antigens and antibodies to HIV were detected. A confirmatory test must be completed to diagnose HIV. This test is sent overseas and may take up to 10 days to return.
  • What is a negative HIV test?
HIV negative means that no HIV antigens and antibodies were detected at this time. In almost all cases this means the person is not infected with HIV. With the fourth-generation testing that HSA uses called HIV Combo (HIV antigen and Antibody testing) the previously known window period of three months has been reduced to 2-6 weeks.The test is only accurate if there are no other exposures between the time of possible exposure to HIV and testing. What is antiretroviral therapy? It is a combination of drugs, to be taken daily, to stop HIV replicating in the body.It cannot cure HIV, but it can reduce the amount of virus to undetectable levels in the blood.Most people with HIV take a combination pill once a day but others can take up to four pills a day depending on their specific health needs.Everyone is recommended to start treatment straight away after being diagnosed.In the UK, 98% of people diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment - and 97% of those have an undetectable level of the virus - meaning they are unable to pass on the infection.But figures from Public Health England estimate that only 92% of the 101,600 people living with HIV have been diagnosed.   If you are unable to attend the set dates for free HIV testing, you can make an appointment for confidential testing at any time with your health care provider or contact Laura Elniski 244 2507 or laura.elniski@hsa.ky.