Amarillo’s Public Health Department is taking action to educate folks in our area about HIV.

Public Health Director Casie Stoughton said they saw a rise in HIV cases in recent years.

“In 2015, we did see a spike in our HIV numbers. We saw about 40 cases,” said Stoughton. “It’s very important to be aware of the opportunities for testing.”

The Health Department Partnered with Greater Than Aids to offer free HIV testing and counseling on prevention strategies at local Walgreens stores this week.

Stoughton said there are five things to know in order to protect yourself from the disease.

“The first is to know about AIDS and to know about HIV,” said Stoughton. “Second is to talk about it, and to talk about testing, and to talk about prevention… testing and, depending on your results, treatment may be necessary.”

The Panhandle AIDS Support Organization (PASO), offers education and emotional support to those infected with HIV.

PASO Financial Manager and Education Coordinator Wendy Miller said the disease will always be a problem in the Panhandle.

“HIV is still a crisis for the world,” said Miller. “Because people are still becoming infected, there are still those that are infected that aren’t getting the services like what PASO provides. There are those that are not getting tested that are positive.”

Miller went on to say they’ve noticed an increase of HIV cases in young adults under the age of 24, and there’s a reason why people aren’t getting tested.

“Even though people can go and lead normal lives and be healthy and have non-detectable viral loads and all that, they’re still not getting tested because of the stigma,” said Miller. “Because people find out about ‘oh you’re HIV positive’ and it’s really hard for a lot of people to handle. Both the people that are infected and the people that find out they are because people don’t know a lot about it.”

Author: Cassie Stafford