Dr. John Chittick, spokesperson for TeenAIDS-PeerCorps, announced a free HIV testing event, Fitchburg Youth AIDS Awareness Day, for youth 17 and older at Riverfront Park in Fitchburg, Mass., on September 7. The volunteer organization hopes to set a world record for the number of youth tested simultaneously for HIV in a public venue.
The testing event will offer HIV rapid-testing using US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, over-the-counter test kits that can detect the virus from an oral saliva swab in 20 minutes with 99-percent accuracy. Participants must show identification to prove they are 17 or older. TeenAIDS-PeerCorps volunteers will provide counseling before, during, and after the test and recommend follow-up confirmatory testing at a hospital or clinic, so those who receive a positive test result could connect to treatment immediately. Chittick’s organization has been offering the free HIV tests, which ordinarily cost $39 plus tax, since FDA approved the over-the-counter test last fall.
Chittick stated that most youth underestimated their risk of acquiring HIV because they perceived the virus as an adult, gay, African-American, or needle disease. In reality, one of every four new HIV diagnoses occurred among people ages 13 to 24, with a large number of new cases among heterosexual youth, according to Chittick. He noted that youth often avoided testing sites such as hospitals or clinics because they feared such sites would notify their parents.
Chittick’s research indicated that 80–85 percent of youth HIV transmission occurred through heterosexual sex, 10–12 percent through homosexual sex, and the remainder through needle-sharing. He also estimated that youth were exposed more frequently to blood-borne diseases like STDs and hepatitis through needles used for tattooing and body piercing.