Washington: Getting the Word Out on HIV Testing

For clinicians, the chief barrier to offering HIV tests during regular medical visits is believing their patients are not at high risk, according to Joanne Stekler, deputy director of the Public Health Seattle & King County HIV/STD Program. While some populations are definitely at much higher risk than others, "We really do want providers to make HIV testing part of their regular screening routine," she said.

The state Department of Health reports that Washington logged 531 new HIV cases in 2009, more than half of which were among King County residents. Department figures show more than 10,500 people in the state are living with HIV.

"Seattle really has a lot of choices for HIV services, and many of them are demographic specific," said Austin Anderson, an educator with the Center for MultiCultural Health. The center mainly targets African-American men, while the Gay City Health Project focuses on men who have sex with men. "We really try to encourage those who are sexually active to make testing part of their regular routine," said Fred Swanson, GCHP's executive director.

The local group BABES provides HIV support for women. In the run-up to Sunday's National HIV Testing Day, BABES placed transit ads across the city to encourage testing. The ads show four smiling women with the headline, "I never thought it could happen to me."

"Many people make the assumption they're not infected, and yet those who are unaware account for the majority of new infections," said CDC spokesperson Nikki Kay. "We can't be complacent about the disease. Testing is a key step in ending the epidemic," Kay said.

To access a local testing center, visit www.hivtest.org.