TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– In 2018, the Indiana Department of Health reported that 274 people were living with HIV in Vigo County.
Kristen Patterson, a health educator at IU Health Positive Link, said it’s becoming more and more common for people to contract the virus unknowingly.
“Stigma is a big issue,” she said. “We don’t make it a comfortable conversation for people, even when they’re going to the doctor for a visit. We don’t want to talk about sex. We don’t want to talk about injection drug use.”
Patterson said data shows that young substance users test positive for HIV more than any other demographic.
However, experts said all sexually active individuals are at risk for contracting the virus and preventative measures like getting annual HIV testing can save lives.
Caroline Mallory, Dean at Indiana State University’s College of Health and Human Services, said taking care of our sexual health is important.
“Our sexual health is a part of our overall health and well being. Taking care of our sexual health means that we’re taking care of our bodies as a whole, ” she said. “It means that we’re more like to live longer and healthier lives. It also protects those around us.”
Mallory said HIV treatment research has advanced significantly since the virus was first discovered in the 1980s.
“With both preventative treatment and with anti-retroviral drugs, that can bring people’s viral loads to zero, people are living with this disease in much more successful ways than they ever have before, ” she said.
Patterson said discussing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases can be difficult, but proper education is the first step in reducing the stigma.
“You’re not alone. You should definitely know what your status is because the faster and earlier you know what your status is, the quicker we can get you on medication and actually help you live a healthier lifestyle,” she noted.
There are several resources in Vigo County that offer HIV and STI testing:
- STI Testing: Crisis Pregnancy Center offers $20 gonorrhea and chlamydia testing and free treatment for those STIs. Health Connections offers income-based treatment and testing. They also accepting health insurance.
- HIV Testing: IU Health Positive Link offers free HIV and Hepatitis C testing. Terre Haute walk-ins are accepted every Monday from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the Booker T. Washington Center.