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“I Know My Status. Do You?” So said the volunteers’ T-shirts at the first annual Know Your Status Day on campus, when MIT community members could get free, confidential HIV testing in recognition of World AIDS Day.
Sixteen people, mostly graduate students, signed up in advance for the cheek-swab test in the Stratton Student Center on Dec. 1, said organizer Kate McCarthy, sexual health program manager in MIT Medical’s Center for Health Promotion and Wellness and author of the Sexpertise column. Another dozen made future appointments for HIV testing at MIT Medical. Participants got private pre-test counseling, testing and results, plus informational handouts and free lunch during the 30-minute wait for the test results.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response from students and their interest not only in this particular event, but in taking care of their sexual health,” McCarthy said. Although HIV is widely publicized, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common in college students, she added, noting that STD testing for students is free at MIT Medical.
“I usually get tested for HIV twice a year,” said a student at the event. Usually he goes to MIT Medical, “but this is more convenient, and it’s so quick,” he said.
Before the rapid HIV test was approved in 2004, testing involved drawing blood and waiting up to two weeks for the result. Individuals testing positive for HIV with the rapid test are advised to get the more accurate blood test as a follow-up, as well as support and counseling.
By 2007, more than a million people had died of AIDS in the U.S., and more than 455,000 Americans were living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of all Americans newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2007, 74 percent were male. By race and ethnicity, 51 percent were black, 29 percent were white, and 18 percent were Hispanic/Latino. About 25 percent were 20-49 years old, while another 4 percent were 13-19.“I’m just making sure I know my status and stay on top of it,” said another graduate student at the event who had also been tested for HIV several times previously. “I think this is a great opportunity.”