The Health Services Authority (HSA), Cayman AIDS Foundation and Cayman Islands Red Cross will once again join forces in coordinating activities to mark HIV Testing Week to be observed in the Cayman Islands from 24-29 June. This is in support of the National Testing Day and Regional HIV Testing Day observed on 27 June.
Testing centres will be available across all three Cayman Islands. Persons who are seeking testing or counseling may indicate to the registration clerks that they would like to register for free HIV testing. The procedure involves a quick and simple blood test. No appointment is necessary during the specified times on the HIV schedule and wait times will be short.
“The purpose of these annual observances is to ensure people get tested for HIV in order to know their status, get linked to the care and treatment services they need should they be diagnosed with the infection,” said Laura Elniski, HIV and STI Programme Coordinator at the HSA.
HIV Testing Week in Cayman, more specifically, provides an opportunity for the public to take advantage of free HIV testing that are offered and to become educated about prevention and protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. “There is a need for people in the Cayman Islands to better understand how HIV is and isn’t transmitted and to be reminded of the importance of testing. Testing may lead to treatment and treatment stops transmission,” Ms Elniski stated.
According to the global organisation, UNAIDS, research has shown that HIV treatment is so highly effective in reducing the transmission of HIV that people living with HIV with an undetectable viral load due to treatment cannot transmit HIV sexually. This has prompted UNAIDS to launch its “Undetectable = Untransmittable” campaign.
“This has incredible impact on the lives of people living with HIV and is a powerful message to address HIV-related stigma, discrimination and social exclusion, which threatens to undermine global efforts to address the diagnosis of HIV, and treatment and care of people living with the virus,” Ms Elniski said.
Since AIDS first appeared, considerable progress has been made worldwide in reducing new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. “Knowing your HIV status is key and this is done through testing,” Ms Elniski said.
The results will be available within three working days or less and will be given to the patient in person only, at the clinic where they took the test. This is to protect the confidentiality of the individual and to offer post-test counseling.
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 certain body fluids 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.
- If you have these symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have HIV. Each of these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, however, 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 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.
You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. Most commonly, people get or transmit HIV through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.
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.
- Use a condom for all sexual encounters.
- Do not share any kind of needles.
You CANNOT 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
If you think you have HIV or believe you are at high risk of contracting HIV – get a 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 diagnosis 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 previous 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.
If you are unable to attend the scheduled walk in clinic for free HIV testing, you can make an appointment for confidential testing at:
Public Health Clinic 244-2648
George Town General Practice Clinic, Cayman Islands Hospital 244-2800/244-2507
Faith Hospital (Cayman Brac) 948-2243
HSA District Health Centres
Cayman Islands Red Cross, Cayman Corporate Centre
A private doctor
For further information about HIV call HIV and STI Programme Coordinator Laura Elniski at 244-2507 or consult your doctor.