Monday, June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve been aware of HIV and AIDS for thirty years.
On June 5, 1981, a report of five cases of a rare pneumonia seen only in people severely immunosuppressed appeared in the Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). This pneumonia and a complex of other conditions later became known as AIDS. In Vermont, the first case of AIDS was reported in 1983. The UVM Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Unit started caring for people with HIV and AIDS in 1987.
Much has changed in 30 years. Living with HIV and AIDS looks very different now than it did in the early 1980s. The first the UVM Medical Center HIV clinic had a hospice nurse as a permanent member of the team. Despite all efforts, many wonderful people died. Today, people who are diagnosed with HIV now have the potential of living long and productive lives. Medications, when taken regularly, decrease the amount of HIV in the bloodstream, allowing our immune systems to react normally.
The challenge today is to help people get into care. The Vermont Department of Health estimates that there could be 100 Vermonters who have HIV and don’t know it. There are many reasons people don’t get HIV tested. Some people are worried about confidentiality; some still believe that there is no help available if they test positive; others are worried about money, jobs or how to tell their partners or families. The UVM Medical Center’s Comprehensive Care Clinics, specializing in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, have offices in Burlington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Brattleboro. We have doctors, nurses, social workers and a dietitian who are here to help.
HIV testing can be done at your doctor’s office or at many free, anonymous testing sites throughout the state. To learn more about HIV and HIV testing, visit the Get Tested Vermont web site or Facebook page, or call us at 802-847-4594. Thirty years on, HIV can be a manageable disease, but only if you know you have it. The first step is to get tested and into care.
Deborah L. Kutzko, A.P.R.N is an infectious disease nurse practitioner at the UVM Medical Center.
Editor’s Note: The advent of HIV/AIDS has changed so many lives over the past 30 years. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this milestone in the comments below.
Also, check out the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s 30 Years of AIDS online community where folks can share their personal stories about living with AIDS, advances in research, videos, photos, and much more.