When it comes to HIV, you can’t rely on symptoms to know whether or not you have the virus. In fact, you can look and feel perfectly healthy and still have an infection.

That’s because HIV often has no symptoms. And this means the only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.

“It’s all about the power of knowing: knowing your vulnerability, knowing your status and knowing your prevention and treatment options,” Melissa Brennan, Family Planning’s Director of Health Center Operations, said. “Thankfully, getting tested for HIV is quick, easy and confidential.”

And for the next week at Family Planning — it’s also free.

Free Testing Week

In observance of National HIV Testing Day on June 27, Family Planning of South Central New York will offer free confidential rapid HIV testing and counseling for the entire week — from Monday, June 22 through Friday, June 26 — at the independent nonprofit’s local medical centers.

Those center locations include:

  • Norwich: 5 Cortland Street
  • Binghamton: 117 Hawley Street
  • Oneonta: 37 Dietz Street
  • Sidney: 37 Pleasant Street (Tuesday only)

The rapid test is a painless finger prick for a drop of blood. Results are ready in only a matter of minutes. Patients also receive counseling on how to identify and reduce their vulnerability to an HIV infection.

One Pill A Day

In addition to offering rapid testing, Family Planning also offers PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, to help prevent HIV infection.

PrEP is for people who do not have HIV but remain vulnerable to getting the infection from sex, such as an HIV negative person with an HIV positive partner, or injectable drug use.

The medication, one pill a day, can stop the virus from taking hold and spreading throughout the body.

“Again, it all starts with knowing your status,” Brennan said.

COVID-19 Challenges

But the social distancing and other day-to-day disruptions related to reducing the spread of COVID-19 has led to a noticeable reduction in HIV testing over the last few months.

And Brennan said many public health officials are concerned this could lead to an uptick in the number of new HIV cases this year, erasing some of the gains made in the decades-long battle to reduce infection rates.

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, however, Family Planning’s medical centers were deemed essential health care facilities and the doors to their medical centers remained open for patients with a variety of acute care needs — including HIV testing.

“The health and safety of our patients has always been our number one priority,” Brennan said. “And that’s never been more true then now. And we’ll continue to work to ensure our centers are safe for our patients and our providers.”

‘Don’t Delay Essential Care’

With south central New York moving into the final stage of reopening, and carefully keeping to both state and federal guidelines, Family Planning’s medical centers are now once again scheduling visits for both urgent and non-urgent gynecological and sexual health care, including annual exams and well visits.

Same day, next day appointments — as well as virtual phone and video visits — are also available for many visit types.

“Don’t delay essential care,” Brennan said. “We’re here for you. We’re here with you. And our doors are open.”