BRYAN, Texas — Monday was National HIV Testing Day, and the Brazos County Health District promoted their free rapid HIV testing service, hoping to combat the relatively high rate of infection in the local area.
According to the health district, Brazos County ranks 24 out of all 254 Texas counties for HIV infection rate, with just over 400 local residents living with the disease. It's something the health district says has to do with the area’s lack of economic mobility, socio-political culture, lack of sex education, and proximity to Austin and Houston.
“I feel like it’s a cultural thing where people sometimes don’t want to get tested," said Georgette Herring, a nurse practitioner with the Brazos County Health District. "They don’t want to know what their status is. It’s something we’re fighting against.”
For the rapid HIV testing conducted at the health district, it takes less than a minute to draw a small amount of blood, with results printed in under 15 minutes.
Even just imagining having HIV can be scary to some people. There’s a fear of death, fear of infecting loved ones, and fear of being shamed by others. The health district assures that their patients' HIV status is kept private from insurance agencies and a patient’s employers.
Local nonprofit Project Unity has been partnering with the district. Monday they were set up inside the downtown Bryan clinic, in order to immediately comfort and provide medical and financial support for any positively diagnosed patients.
“We offer case management, so anyone who is in our special health services will have a case manager to talk to," said Jenna Gaulden, a medical case manager for Project Unity. "We also have mental health care providers that we can send people to, and pay for.”
Treating this illness was a completely different task in decades past. The treatment of HIV in 2022 has advanced significantly, according to Herring. Patients can still live many years with HIV, and can still have children.
“It’s just one medication, which is the lovely thing about it," Herring said. "It used to be that you had to take multiple medications just to kind of prevent you from getting ill... It’s definitely not a death sentence. I know it’s still scary, but it’s definitely manageable.”
For the past five years, the Brazos County Health District has been able to provide free rapid testing thanks to local government funding. That funding will run out by October 1, so it’s advisable to come in now, or else tests will cost $20 each.
Preventative testing is important, the health district said, even if you don’t think you have HIV. It’s better to know, and be sure.