A key administrator in the Iowa Department of Public Health says every Iowan should be tested at least once for HIV — the virus that causes AIDS.
“What we’re really trying to do is find people who are infected with HIV who aren’t aware of that, so that we can get them into services and we can reduce transmissions from those people to other people,” says Randy Mayer, chief of the state public health bureau that deals with sexually transmitted diseases.
About 2300 Iowans have been diagnosed with HIV, but officials estimate another 600 Iowans have the virus but don’t know it.
“Because HIV is not very prevalent, there’s not a lot of infected people in Iowa, physicians and other people just don’t tend to think about HIV,” Mayer says, “and for that reason we keep seeing all these people showing up with late diagnosis.”
Iowa has one of the highest rates of late diagnosis of HIV.
“They’ve been infected eight to 10 years. They don’t have symptoms until about eight to 10 years and then they’re showing up at emergency rooms and doctors and already their health has been impacted and they’ve probably transmitted to others,” Mayer says, “so one of the things we’re trying to do in Iowa is really get that message out, that everybody should be tested at least once, so that we can find those people.”
Mayer says the sooner someone is diagnosed with HIV, the more effective treatment can be and it’s also less likely they’ll spread the virus to others.
Sunday, December 1 was World AIDS Day and events are scheduled throughout the week here in Iowa to mark the effort to get people diagnosed and treated. A documentary called “How to Survive a Plague” will be shown at Collins Road Theater in Marion tonight. The Siouxland AIDS Coalition will host an event Thursday evening at Morningside College, showing a documentary about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Some public health departments are offering free HIV tests this week as well.