(CBS News) Today is National HIV Testing Day, a day to raise awareness to let Americans know how and how often to get an HIV Test. In the U.S. about 1.2 million people are living with HIV - but only about one in five of them don't know they're infected.
That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages everyone ages 13-64 get tested for HIV at least once. The agency also urges high-risk individuals - including gay and bisexual men, injection drug users or people with multiple sex partners - to get tested once a year.
Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing every three to six months, the CDC said. Pregnant women should get tested early in their pregnancy so doctors can take steps to prevent HIV from transmitting to the baby.
National HIV Testing Day was first founded in 1995 by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), which continues to lead the charge with support from the CDC and Aids.gov.
"To achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we must ensure that people get tested and that those who are HIV-positive are linked to timely and effective care," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, said in a blog on AIDS.gov. "To do this, it is imperative that we increase the number of people who are routinely tested for HIV in health care settings, and also make it easier for people to get tested in community settings." The national strategy, released in July 2010, serves as an "ambitious" roadmap for the federal government and other groups to fight HIV/AIDS.
An example of a new approach the CDC is trying to get more people tested is a new $1.2 million initiative to train pharmacists and other staff at 12 rural and 12 urban pharmacies to provide free rapid HIV testing.
"We know that getting people tested, diagnosed and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections," Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said yesterday in a news release. "By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and also reduce the stigma associated with HIV.
reported yesterday that tests are already available at seven locations, and the CDC will soon pick 17 more. Walgreens, one of the companies, will begin the first part of its two-year program in select pharmacies throughout Chicago and Washington, D.C. and the Ga.-based Take Care Clinic. The CDC hopes the program could serve as a model for nationwide HIV testing.
"HIV testing and treatment save lives," Frieden said. "We must promote HIV testing and prevent new HIV infections every day of the year, not just today, National HIV Testing Day."