JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One in 7 people in the United States are living with HIV and are unaware of their infection.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HIV diagnoses are not evenly distributed across states or regions, but Florida has reported the most cases in 2018.
The Florida Department of Health launched a campaign called Ending the Epidemic: A Plan for America.
The Regional HIV/AIDS Program Administrator for Northeast Florida, Joseph Mims, said patients’ biggest deterrent for treatment is the stigma associated with HIV or AIDS.
“Because of the way HIV is transmitted, it’s sexually transmitted, our area is a very conservative area. So when we talk about something a little more edgy, we tend to back away from it,” Mims said.
In 2018, the department reported more than 7,600 people living with HIV in Northeast Florida. Of the 344 newly diagnosed cases, about 86% of people live in Duval County.
Duval County is one of seven Florida counties considered to be part of the AIDS epidemic.
“Transmission rates, behaviors, different things like that,” Mims said. “So what we have to do is actually get out into the community and do more education and make sure the community is aware of HIV, the HIV virus and what it going on in the community.”
To reduce numbers, Mims said the department works to spread awareness in the community. Its outreach team goes to local barber shops, churches, malls and schools to provide rapid HIV tests and education.
The director of public affairs, Samantha Epstein, volunteered to do a rapid HIV test in front of Action News Jax. The department is encouraging more to get this test done regularly in Duval County.
The administrator performed a quick finger prick and collected a small sample. It gave Epstein results in about 15 minutes. Action News Jax is not reporting her results for privacy.
The administrator also discussed her background, personal information and education about HIV.
“I just want to encourage to go ahead and take action and get this done,” Epstein said. “It’s better to know than not to know.”
Anyone can sign up to get a rapid HIV test for free. Find one of the testing locations here.
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