Azul Mares-Delgrasso, a Metro alumnus, wants students to know that it’s OK to get tested for HIV.
Mares-Delgrasso, who graduated from Metro in 2001 with a fine-arts and modern languages degree and again in 2004 with a degree in Chicana/o studies, works as an HIV testing counselor for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Approximately 150 students received a free HIV test April 15 when the Testing USA 2010 Tour rolled through Auraria.
“This is about talking about stigmas associated with HIV testing, talking about prevention methods across the country and gathering voices from different communities about the challenges, barriers and successes regarding HIV testing,” Mares-Delgrasso said.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Magic Johnson Foundation started the Testing USA Tour, which offers free HIV testing to local communities.The screening took place in the AHF’s new Testing USA mobile testing van.
The van was named after NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr.
Mares-Delgrasso said the most common stigma attached to HIV testing is that people don’t feel comfortable about getting tested.
“I really liked it,” Metro student Thomas Kysar said. “It didn’t hurt at all and it was free so I figured I might as well. I had never been tested in my life so I wanted to know and make sure everything was clear.”
Whenever the AHF and MJF go to a new town to educate the community on the virus and HIV testing, they partner with local human service and wellness centers.
When the tour came to Colorado, they enlisted the help of Servicios De La Raza, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Spanish-speaking communities in metro Denver.
The Health Center at Auraria was also involved in the Testing USA visit.
Nationwide, the AHF has eight mobile units that tests more than 40,000 people per year in Los Angeles alone, according to Mares-Delgrasso.
The Testing USA Tour, which launched Jan. 4 in Los Angeles and will end in New York, will make its journey across 48 states in six months.
With approximately 2,500 patients screened, 17 positive cases of HIV have been identified, according to Mares-Delgrasso.
“If someone were to test positive on the rapid HIV test, then they would run the full test, which is called the Western blot,” said Jalene Salazar, a medical case manager for Servicios De La Raza.
“That’s another reason we teamed up with the Health Center at Auraria because the Western blot can be analyzed by the workers in the Testing USA van or by the Health Center staff,” Salazar continued.
Two things will happen if someone were to test positive with the virus. First, the infected person would be sent to the Health Center where clinical providers would draw a tube of blood for further analysis.
Then, the blood would be sent to the two labs located in Denver that the Health Center uses for blood work — Quest Diagnostics or LabCore — where an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is performed.
The ELISA, which can take more than 24 hours to yield a result, offers results more reliable than the rapid HIV test conducted at the Testing USA van.
If the ELISA yields a positive result, then the Western blot test, which can take more than a week, is conducted as well, according to Director of Health Services Steve Monaco.
The rapid HIV testing process at the mobile testing van involves a quick prick of a finger with a small needle and then setting samples of blood in a solution-filled vial. Results are available in less than three minutes.
“The test was really easy and fast. I thought it took a while to get results but it was instant. I was nervous at first because I’m scared of needles but it was really easy. The pin-prick is gone now,” said UCD student Ashleigh Owen.
Even though the Testing USA Tour has come and gone, “We encourage students to come down to the Health Center because we offer free HIV testing every day,” Monaco said.
For more information on the Testing USA tour please visit: www.freehivtest.net/testing_usa/index.html