The Northern Utah Coalition offered free and confidential HIV testing to Weber State University students from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. Coalition volunteers administered tests in the Shepherd Union Building’s Center for Diversity and Unity, where Planned Parenthood also manned a table of safe-sex supplies and pamphlets.
Carlie Benson, a volunteer for the coalition, graduated from WSU in microbiology in spring 2011. She is currently studying Spanish at WSU while she applies to medical school. She said HIV education is particularly important in Utah because of the conservative culture, which often discourages people from being tested.
“Part of it is because, especially here in Utah, it’s kind of stigmatized to have multiple partners or to have extramarital sex, so people might not be as honest about their sexual history,” Benson said. “. . . So I think that it’s important to just raise awareness that nobody’s judging you, we just want you to be healthy, and we want you to know your status so that your partners can be healthy. I mean, people have sex, they’re going to. So you may as well just educate them and be smart.”
According to Amy Martinez, also a volunteer and recruiter for the Northern Utah Coalition, the HIV blood test only took around 15 minutes per student. Students were given their results on the spot. However, Benson said no one there was definitively told he or she had HIV. Students who tested positive were declared “preliminary positive” and referred to their local health department.
“Once they get the confirmatory test from the health department, they’re provided with a lot of resources, support groups, with a lot of different community resources that can offer them help while they’re going through this time of their life, and then they’re referred to a clinic in Salt Lake City, down at University Hospital at the University of Utah,” Benson said. “There’s no cure ever, but they treat and manage symptoms . . . There’s only one clinic that does that in Utah, and it’s at the University of Utah.”
Misconceptions about HIV might suggest it can be spread through contact other than sex, but Benson said the only other way to spread HIV is through shared drug needles.
“HIV can’t be spread through casual contact. It can’t be spread through kissing. I mean, herpes you can get from kissing somebody who has herpes. HIV is only through sexual contact and injection-drug use.”
Benson said the Northern Utah Coalition tries to offer free HIV testing at WSU at least twice per semester.
“HIV is never curable . . . and it’s so preventable,” she said. “That’s why we try to educate about protecting yourself, because once you have it, you have it.”
Martinez said she thinks education about HIV, AIDS and other STDs is crucial even for people who have only had sex with their spouses, a common practice in Utah. She said even monogamous individuals should be familiar with the dangers of HIV so they can offer help to friends and loved ones, especially their children, who might not make the same decisions they did.
“I think education for anybody is good, because we don’t live isolated lives,” Martinez said.
According to the coalition’s website, www.northernutahcoalition.com, its Ogden headquarters offers free testing for HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhea and Hepatitis C, as well as educational presentations in English and Spanish, prevention seminars for youth, safety training and support groups. Its headquarters are located at 536 24th St., Suite 2B.