Raising Awareness of HIV Prevention

Micah Madir, EPIC prevention and outreach specialist, encourages everyone to know their HIV status

By: LaShante Keys, Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist

Did you know that people with HIV can live long and healthy lives? With testing, prevention and treatment working together, it is possible.

Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), a member of Empath Health, is dedicated to providing a wide range of care and support resources for people impacted by HIV and AIDS throughout Tampa Bay.

In 2018, Florida ranked number three in the country for highest rates of new HIV infections. These rates impact the African American community especially hard. In Pinellas County, 42% of new cases in 2018 were in African Americans. Additionally, 1 in 7 are unaware they have it.

If you don’t know you have the virus, you can’t take the right steps to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy. That’s why testing is a critical step in reducing transmission rates.

It’s easy to know your status with EPIC providing two options for no-cost HIV testing: in the office and an at-home kit.

The at-home test is an oral swab that shows results in about 20 minutes and comes with step-by-step directions and support from an EPIC outreach counselor. Kits can be requested at MyEpic.org/HIV-Testing.

“People should get tested just to know their status or when starting a new relationship,” explains Micah Madir, prevention and outreach specialist for EPIC. “We suggest retesting every three to six months, especially for those who have multiple partners or share needles.”

An EPIC team member provides pre-and post-test counseling. If the result is positive, you are set up with a case manager and discuss medications. If the result is negative, the discussion is focused on prevention.

Talking about prevention might be going over safe sex practices, such as using condoms and providing them if needed, or discussing pre-exposure medication, known as PrEP. When taken regularly, this medication prevents HIV from being contracted.

“I’m a big advocate for PrEP. It can be a wonderful option for people,” adds Madir. “I often hear about people who are afraid to be in a relationship because of HIV. PrEP can help overcome that fear.”

Madir encourages anyone who thinks PrEP may be right for them to do their own research and then talk to a prevention specialist at EPIC, who can help answer questions and dispel any misconceptions.

Misinformation and stigma is part of why HIV remains a health concern. Outside of conversations during testing, EPIC’s outreach team can also talk to groups about sexual education topics in person or via Zoom.

“One of the biggest things I hear about HIV/AIDS is how it’s spread. Many think it’s through kissing, or they think they can’t get it because they aren’t gay,” explained Micah. “People may not want to talk about sex, but we need to have these conversations. Ignorance leads to fear, and that feeds the stigma.”

Visit MyEPIC.org to learn more about the medical care, counseling, support and prevention services offered by EPIC for people living with HIV and AIDS.

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