By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Tests for the virus that causes AIDS will go mobile in Del Norte County next year.
The HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention Program of the Del Norte County Health Department plans to offer its free, anonymous tests in a vehicle that will travel through the region.
"We want to have as many people as possible tested," said county health department director Gary Blatnick. "The closer we could get to people, the more likely they are willing to be tested."
The department plans to drive the vehicle to Klamath, Gasquet, Smith River and other outlying areas. Rain and limited public transportation hinder residents from visiting the county health department in Crescent City, Blatnik said.
The Northcrest Drive office offers free tests. The bloodless process uses an oral swab a swipe of the inside of the mouth to detect the antibodies that the body creates to fight HIV. Results take 20 minutes.
But fewer than 10 people each month show up for tests, said Denise Thorton, health education coordinator.
"My goal is to get the number of people tested in Del Norte County higher," Thorton said.
A vehicle that brings the free test to different sites could also bring in drug-users who remain at risk of infection because they may share needles.
"That's a big high-risk group," Blatnik said.
And the non-descript, moving test site could attract those who want to get tested while keeping a low profile in the small community. A stigma remains attached to AIDS testing, as it does in other parts of the United States.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Thorton said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that problem in its recent recommendations to health care providers on HIV testing. The suggestions urge doctors to make the tests as routine as cholesterol checks for nearly all patients.
"When every person gets offered an HIV test at some point in his or her health care, it should take controversy and judgment out of the test and make it a normal part of taking care of oneself," states the federal agency's notice on the report.
Finding out an infected status not only can limit the spread of the virus, but also help those infected to seek treatment as soon as possible. About 25 percent of the approximately 900,000 people with HIV in the United States do not know that they have it, the center reports.
The county AIDS program works on prevention efforts, as well. In 2000, the county health department installed 21 condom machines in 10 locations, including county buildings and area businesses and restaurants.
The department aims to start the mobile HIV testing service in March and will fund the vehicle, supplies and staff time with the approximately $80,000 that the California Office of AIDS provides Del Norte County each year.
"We want to make it as convenient as possible," Blatnik said of testing. "It's in everyone's best interest."
AIDS in DNC
20 known cases of AIDS
16 known cases of HIV, which can lead to AIDS
10 people a month on average are tested for HIV