There are approximately 1.1 million people living in the U.S. who have the HIV virus, and over 16 percent are unaware of their infection.
The statistic released in a 2014 report by avert.org, a website that provides information about the HIV virus in America, can be linked to a variety of factors including poor healthcare options, geographical location and a lack of education concerning the virus and how it spreads.
Organized by Advocates for Youth, a group that strives to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health, National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day took place April 10 with the purpose of promoting testing and awareness while fighting the HIV stigma.
Out of a group of 50 Plattsburgh State students polled in the Angell College Center April 21, less than 10 percent were aware National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day had occurred earlier in the month.
For many college students, the last formal information they were taught about HIV came in the form of a health class in middle or high school.
Although she said she has seen the occasional pamphlet with information about the virus around campus, PSUC junior Jordan Seymour said she would like to see testing “made more accessible” and added “classes when (students) come in as freshman” may serve to help undermine “the stigma of getting tested.”
Although the Student Health Center on the Plattsburgh State campus provides pamphlets about STDs that include information on the HIV and AIDS virus, brochures and posters specifically addressing HIV are not prevalent.
“(HIV) needs to be more of an open conversation,” said PSUC junior Sophie Deshaies.
Deshaies, who said she has never seen any literature about the HIV virus since coming to campus, suggested places like the Student Health Center “offer incentives for students” who get tested for the virus as a way of increasing both awareness and the number of students tested.
With a new statistic recently being released by advocatesforyouth.org stating almost 40 percent of new HIV infections are young people ages 13 to 29, awareness of the virus may be a simple, yet successful way to curb the spread.
In light of that disturbing fact, testing for the HIV virus is especially critical for sexually active students in college.
“I think students should get tested even if they are 99 percent sure they don’t have (the virus),” Deshaies said.
The HIV virus also shares a common factor with other STDs such as herpes — a person could have the virus for 10 years and show no signs of infection. Even in the case of an infected person showing no physical symptoms, the virus can still be spread easily through sexual contact.
Despite the fact that over a million people in the U.S. carry the virus, PSUC senior Kash Durham said he was “more surprised by the number of people who didn’t know they had (the virus).”
In regards to increasing awareness on campus, Durham suggested informational events sponsored by the Health Department, as well as Q&A forums to attract more student attention and participation.
New York State Public Health Law requires an HIV test be offered to any between the ages of 13 and 64 receiving hospital or primary care services, and the PSUC Student Health Center is no exception.
The Center offers testing via appointment, as well as information on how to prevent passing the virus to others, should a positive test result occur.
Email Thomas Marble at firstname.lastname@example.org