Durham County

Durham AIDS campaign urges more testing for HIV

World AIDS Day will hit closer to home this year for Durham groups who want people to know HIV infections are increasing, making it all the more important to get tested for the virus that causes AIDS.

Roughly 1,600 people are living with an HIV infection in Durham County, officials said, making it the No. 3 county in the state with the highest average rates of newly diagnosed HIV cases over a three-year period. Durham County reported 66 new HIV infection cases in 2014 and 70 in 2013.

The Partnership for a Healthy Durham’s HIV/STI Committee and others will host this year’s World AIDS Day event at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at CCB Plaza, 201 N. Corcoran St.

The public event will include local leaders and a red balloon release. The 2BeatHIV Project from UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease then will host a celebration at the LGBTQ Center of Durham. The Triangle Empowerment Center will offer free HIV/STI testing.

The partnership also will host a live Twitter chat with local experts from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday at www.twitter.com/healthydurham. Use #DurhamKnowsWAD to join the conversation.

The event is part of a new campaign called “Durham Knows,” which Durham County Department of Public Health officials said was modeled on the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s The Bronx Knows initiative. Both programs promote the idea that everyone should know their HIV status. National guidelines recommend everyone submit to routine testing.

At least 20 percent of people may be unaware that they are at risk, health officials said. Many are afraid to get tested or fear the stigma of being diagnosed with HIV, they said, but the disease is no longer “a death sentence.”

While testing could increase the number of residents known to have HIV infections, said Arlene Seña, medical director for Durham County Department of Public Health, early diagnosis and treatment eventually could lower the number of cases and HIV rates.