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NEW YORK (PIX11) – Monday is National HIV Testing Day and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data showing that HIV diagnoses dropped 17 percent in 2020 – the latest year on record.

Researchers, though, are not celebrating the drop because they blame the disruptions brought by the pandemic for the lower number, saying they believe fewer people got tested which is why it’s even more important to get screened and find out your HIV status.

HIV has taken the lives of more than 36 million people across the globe, according to the World Health Organization. Having a day dedicated to testing brings awareness to the virus and helps limit transmission.

Dr. Anthony Santella is a professor of health administration and policy at the University of New Haven and specializes in HIV and AIDS.

“The theme this year is ‘HIV testing is self-care,’” Dr. Santella said. “I can’t think of a better thing to do to take care yourself and the health of those around you than to get an HIV test.”

HIV is a viral infection that essentially destroys the immune system. Dr. Santella adds that there are about one in eight people with HIV who do not know they have the virus who may be unknowingly spreading it to other people.

HIV is largely transmitted sexually, but there are other ways to get it such as sharing drug paraphernalia and mother-to-child transmission through pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. If HIV is left untreated, you can develop AIDS.

“If it’s not detected early and treated early, has the potential to have pretty severe consequences, but the good news is we have great ways to screen people,” Dr. Santella said.

Today, there are many accessible ways to get tested, including a finger prick to test blood or a rapid saliva test. Both are accurate, but the oral test does not show recent infection. 

“They have a three-month window period, so right now we’re [at] the end of June, so if you go back to the end of May, to the end of April, to the end of March [and] if you engaged in risk behavior from the end of March to the end of June, those oral tests won’t pick up the HIV virus,” Dr. Santella said.

The CDC recommends everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once a year. Depending on your health behaviors and number of sexual partners, it may be advised you get tested more frequently.

Tests have become more widely available and are largely free with insurance. If you don’t have insurance, there are many low-cost or free options in clinics or health centers.

For a list of HIV testing sites near you, click here.