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In service of World AIDS Day Dec. 1— a date commemorating 40 years and more than 700,000 deaths since the HIV epidemic first touched the United States—the Kent County Health Department will offer free walk-in testing in Grand Rapids, Mich.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and is a non-curable disease that attacks the body’s immune system. Today, people living with HIV can treat the virus with a drug that research shows is 99 percent effective at reducing the risk of the virus progressing.

Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the most severe stage of HIV that impairs a person’s immune system. HIV is transmitted through body fluids from an infected person to a non-infected person, primarily through having sex, sharing needles, and through pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

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Indigenous communities are particularly impacted by AIDS, according to data from Indian Health Services. Some factors that contribute to elevated HIV/AIDS rates among Natives include higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, alcohol and substance abuse, and sexual and domestic violence. 

Because the virus doesn’t often cause symptoms in infected patients for long periods of time, most people don’t know when they become infected.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in eight people living with HIV in the United States are unaware.

For that reason, testing is particularly important to stop the spread of the virus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made testing difficult,” says April Hight, Personal Health Services Supervisor at the Kent County Health Department. “This year we are hoping that more people will take advantage of our clinic and we will raise the level of community awareness about the importance of HIV testing.”

HIV testing and treatment is available at the KCHD Personal Health Services Clinic. Call KCHD at 616-632-7171 to schedule a test or to learn more. The Grand Rapids Red Project offers free HIV testing all year. Visit their website to make an appointment.

To find a free HIV testing site near you, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HIV.gov website and use their testing site locator

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