Get tested for free on World AIDS Day

Margarita Cambest
  • Family First Health is offering free, confidential HIV tests from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at Minnich's Pharmacy.
  • The pharmacy is in the Colonial Shopping Center at 976 S. George St. in York.

About 13 percent of York County residents with HIV don't know they're infected with the virus, according to estimates from Family First Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2015, 1,165 Pennsylvanians were diagnosed with HIV, but the CDC estimates just 41 percent of the population has been tested, which means there are likely many others. On Thursday, the community health clinic will take a stab at informing some of those people by offering free HIV tests from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Minnich’s Pharmacy.

“It’s just good to know,” Caring Together program manager Shannon McElroy said. “We recommend that everybody get tested just to know their status.”

Shannon McElroy is the program manager of Caring Together at Family First Health.

Family First Health’s Caring Together is providing medical, dental and case management services to 550 clients with HIV.

Bringing awareness to the spread of HIV is important, McElroy said, because while AIDS peaked in the '90s and dropped with the development of anti-retroviral drugs, the number of reported HIV infections without AIDS has remained relatively stable in Pennsylvania since the state started tracking the incidences in 2002.

Between 1980 and 2015, state statistics show HIV killed 465 people in York County, and there have been 1,234 cumulative cases reported in that same time period. In 2015, York County ranked 10th of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties for cumulative cases of HIV. York’s annual rate of diagnosis in 2014 was 6.35 per 100,000 people.

“A lot of people think that HIV has disappeared because people don’t talk about it as much, but we’re here to bring it back to the surface,” McElroy said. “There are still people with HIV, and you can still get HIV.”

While HIV is most prevalent in gay men and the black community, 28 percent of the state’s incidences in 2015 were transmitted by heterosexual sex, the second most frequent mode of HIV transmission in Pennsylvania according to state data, and there is no cure.

Just 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2015 cases were transmitted by intravenous drug injection, although the Department of Health has warned that figure could trend higher in coming years.

McElroy said many people unknowingly carry around HIV because they fear the results of a test or think that it won’t happen to them.

“You think you are protected or that (your partner has) been protected themselves, but you just never know,” she said.

The CDC recommends everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once and that high-risk groups get tested more often. The quick, confidential finger pricks will be available anytime between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday on a walk-in basis.

In addition to hosting the free rapid tests, Minnich’s Pharmacy will donate 50 percent of its retail sales to Caring Together throughout the event, and Caring Together will offer education on HIV and AIDS. The pharmacy is in the Colonial Shopping Center, 976 S. George St. in York.

“We’ll talk about protection, how you can protect yourself from HIV, the ways that it’s transmitted and answer any other questions about HIV,” McElroy said.

If you miss the event, Family First Health also offers free HIV tests at its George Street clinic from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.