HIV/AIDS still continue to threaten our health and world.

In 2017, 39 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS globally, according to UNAIDS. The HIV virus is mainly spread through unprotected sex or sharing intravenous drug needles. It can turn fatal if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Many efforts are focused on HIV awareness and prevention. President Trump recently launched a new campaign to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by 2030. Tampa Bay is a particular hotspot for HIV. EPIC (Empath Partners in Care), a member of Empath Health, is working as part of the Zero Pinellas partnership to cut new HIV infections by half in this area over the next few years.

“The increased numbers of African Americans when it comes to HIV/AIDS, especially for our youth, is important to note,” shared Bridget Narvaez, RN, director of medical and education services.

EPIC Director of Medical and Education Services Bridget Narvaez

February is National Condom Month: Wrap it Up. We remind that if you are sexually active, no matter your age or background, you can help protect yourself from HIV by using condoms with every encounter.

“Whenever there’s any type of intercourse or sexual act, people need to use a new condom. Consistent condom use helps prevent pregnancy and the transmission or contraction of HIV/AIDS and other STDs and STIs. That’s having safe sex,” Narvaez explained.

It’s important to use the right types of male or female condoms and to store them safely.

She added, “Everyone needs to understand the type of condom they have and the proper usage. Condom size does matter. Everybody isn’t made the same.”

Other prevention includes getting tested to learn your HIV status or asking for PrEP treatment if you are in a high-risk population. If you test positive, you should get into care and take medications daily in order to suppress your viral load to un-transmittable levels as well as keep you healthy.

“If people are infected and continue to engage in any sexual activity then they need to take steps for prevention. It’s important to have those conversations on the front end versus after any engagement,” Narvaez noted.

Get Condoms and Testing

For free condoms and rapid HIV testing, stop by EPIC’s locations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg or Tampa, Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., or visit EPIC’s mobile unit. Appointments are not needed.

For more information, call us at (727) 328-3260 in Pinellas or (813) 237-3066 in Hillsborough.