By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - For 15 minutes, Austin Weatherington rewinds the last seven months of his sex life and reflects on every encounter. He sits with his stomach in knots while anxiety is having its way with him. Fifteen minutes feel like it's been stretched into hours.
Sitting behind a black curtain in the lobby of National Council of Black Women building in Washington, D.C., Weatherington is waiting for the results of his HIV test. He admits that he now realizes that 30 minutes of pleasure suddenly seems heavier. One of those 30 minutes of pleasure could change the rest of his life.
He swabbed the inside of his mouth a few minutes earlier. The man administering the test cracks a couple of jokes to help relax him and tells him that it will take about 15 minutes to get back the results. The tester, a dreadlocked man in disposable latex gloves, then asks Weatherington a series of basic screening questions regarding his sexual history, drug use and other behaviors:
“Have you had unprotected sex in the last six months?”
“Have you ever taken drugs intravenously?”
“Have you ever tested positive for HIV or AIDS?”
This is Weatherington's third test and, hopefully, third negative result. His last test was seven months ago. The 24-year-old radio producer is getting tested at an HIV/AIDS Testing Day event organized by the National Council of Negro Women from a grant sponsored by the Center for Disease Control. The Washington, D.C. radio station that Weatherington works for is broadcasting on site from the event in hopes of getting people to come out. Organizers are hoping to get twice the amount of people tested than they did previous year when they tested 100 people.
"NCNW held our first event to address the issue of HIV/ AIDS 25 years ago so we are not newcomers to this," said Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the NCNW Research and Policy Center. "We see it as something that is critically important to our community. In recent years, it has been even more devastating than in years past. We are only 12 percent of the population but we are nearly half of those infected with HIV."
Events such as these are crucial because Washington has the worst HIV/ AIDS rate of any major city in the country. The Nation's Capitol's rate is nearly 10 times the national rate with as many as one in 20 adults having HIV, according to the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Eighty-six percent of those with the virus in Washington is African-American. Nationally, that figure is closer to half, which is still disproportionately high.
"It's quick, it's easy, it's painless," Jones-DeWeever said. "That's the message I want to get across to people."
Compared to the previous testing methods, which used needles to draw blood and could take weeks for a result, the process is literally fast, easy and painless. The practitioners administer an oral fluid test called Orasure that tests for the presence of HIV antibodies, not the virus itself.
Weatherington was asked to swab the inside of his mouth. He had to thoroughly swab around the front of his gums. The swab was used to produced an oral fluid sample. The test uses a fluid picked up by the swab called oral mucosal transudate that comes from the tissues of the cheek, not the saliva.
The swab is then put into a solution that in 15 minutes will read whether the person is HIV positive or negative.
"They swab the inside of your mouth and 15 minutes later you go home with a peace of mind and you're protecting yourself and protecting the ones you love," Jones-DeWeever says.
If you get a negative result on the test it is quite accurate. However, if the result is "preliminary positive" you will need to do follow up blood tests to check whether you actually have HIV or not.
While the quick swab test is very reliable it is not 100 percent. It is reported to be 99.9 percent accurate. It is accurate enough in letting a person know that they don't have HIV. But if a person receives a positive reading, it means that HIV antibodies are present and the result is preliminary until a full blood test can be conducted to accurately diagnose that a person is HIV positive.
"If a positive test comes up, that person is counseled immediately and, in addition, an appointment is made for a blood test so that we can verify the results," Jones-DeWeever says. "They are then referred to the appropriate parties for further help."
Jones-DeWeever said that research is telling experts that there is an increasing sense of complacency among the Black community.
"People think that the fight against AIDS is over or that it is not more serious than a cold and that you just have to take a couple of pills and you're fine,” she said. “This is still a serious disease and it is still killing people. We need to take it seriously."
Being proactive by getting tested early will help people who are living with the virus to live long, strong and healthy lives, she said.
“The secret to being able to live 20-plus years with HIV in a way that Magic Johnson, for example, is that he knew early,” Jones-DeWeever said. “You need to know early so that you could be put on the correct regimen and you can have a great quality of life. That's the key.”
Weatherington said that getting tested is not a topic of discussion amongst his friends or family but he and his girlfriend made it a priority to keep each other informed. They made a pact to know each other's status. She already got tested so now it's his turn.
"Am I worried? I think everyone should be worried if you're having sex,” Weatherington says. “But yeah, I'm a little anxious and nervous. But I'm glad it's a swab test. I'm a little afraid of needles."
The 15-minute wait elapses. After the dreadlocked man in the latex gloves finishes asking Weatherington the screening questions, he nonchalantly informs the radio producer of his results.
Weatherington cracks a smile and looks at the paper with the box checked negative as it's handed to him.
He replies, "I've never been happy to hear something so negative in my life."
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