Free AIDS, STD testing today in Sumter, Lee, Clarendon

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Free AIDS and STD testing will be available at local Public Health Clinics in Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties today, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Pee Dee Regional Director Linda Johnson said.

In a news release distributed Tuesday, DHEC announced the free testing in conjunction with World AIDS Day, which is Friday. DHEC is encouraging South Carolinians to get tested, to know their status and, for those living with HIV, to stay on treatment to keep the virus suppressed.

S.C. Public Health offices in the tri-county area are: 105 N. Magnolia St., Sumter, (803) 773-5511; 705 Sycamore St. and 810 Brown St., Bishopville, (803) 484-6612; and 110 E. Boyce St., Manning, (803) 435-8168.

Johnson said the department prefers people make an appointment by calling (800) 868-0404, but because of the late notice, walk-ins will be accommodated.

Johnson said DHEC is planning additional free testing days in late spring 2018.

"South Carolina ranked 10th in the country and the District of Columbia in the case rate for HIV diagnoses in 2015," said Ali Mansaray, director of DHEC's STD, HIV and Viral Hepatitis Division. "This year, we hope to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested and to help those who are living with HIV to start and continue care. Life-saving HIV treatment is available to reduce HIV in the body to very low levels so that those living with HIV stay healthy and are less likely to infect others."

In 2015, nearly 700 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina. As of Dec. 31, 2016, there were an estimated 18,998 South Carolina residents living with diagnosed HIV infection, including AIDS.

"Early detection through testing remains essential to successfully identifying and treating the disease and helping to end the epidemic," Mansaray said.

Another vital component to ending the HIV epidemic is ensuring that all persons living with HIV are in a continuous system of medical care and treatment. DHEC estimates that almost 6,000 persons living with HIV in South Carolina are not receiving medical treatment. To address this situation, DHEC has implemented a new public health strategy, "Data to Care," which offers those living with HIV assistance and support to bring them back into care and help them to stay in treatment.

"Medical treatment is so effective that persons living with HIV can effectively control the production of HIV," said Dr. Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the Joseph H. Neal Wellness Center. "The CDC recently announced that people who take their HIV medications as prescribed and achieve and maintain undetectable viral loads have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner." Gaddist is referring to the notice updating HIV Treatment and Viral Suppression released by the CDC in September.

For more information about HIV testing, as well as local HIV testing sites, call DHEC's AIDS/STD Hotline at 1-800-322-AIDS (1-800-322-2437), or visit DHEC's website at www.scdhec.gov/HIV.