Should an HIV test become a routine medical procedure? It's a question some medical professionals are asking after a new CDC report identified teens and young adults as particularly prone to infection.
With World AIDS Day set for Saturday, the Health Department and Clinica Sierra Vista are offering free HIV tests to the public and are encouraging everyone to get tested. It's a painless process that only takes about 20 minutes and 17 News' Chris Pavlish volunteered to show you how easy it is to do.
According to the CDC, more than a quarter of new U.S. infections are in youths aged 13 to 24, but 60 percent of them don't even know they're infected. That's why health professionals are pushing for everyone to get tested. With early identification, officials say it's still possible to live a normal life.
A house in a quiet Bakersfield neighborhood is a haven for those who are HIV positive. It's a place of understanding, education, and companionship.
"I said, I'm still human. I'm still human because the Lord is a healer," said Thelma Roberson. She found out she was HIV positive 32 years ago while serving time in jail. "They asked us if we wanted to test for HIV and I was the one standing in line. So I was infected."
It's a story Roberson isn't shy to tell at Ricky's Retreat, home of the Bakersfield AIDS project. It's also where Robert Petersen volunteers his time. "I've had a lot of friends who've passed away from AIDS in the early 80s and 90s," said Petersen. He admits he has a history of risky decisions. "It was a very emotional experience, but I tested negative and I prepared for it to be a positive."
He still has his test results from last year. While one is HIV positive and the other isn't, they both share an appreciation for getting tested. Public health officials say while AIDS can't be cured, it can be managed.
"With medications, with early identification, it's sort of shifted to a chronic illness that with proper management people live for many years," said public health officer Dr. Claudia Jonah.
But testing remains a problem, especially with younger adults. The CDC says only 34 percent of those ages 18 to 24 say they've been tested. With an HIV test taking only 20 minutes and a saliva sample, officials say there's too much at stake not knowing your status.