By Greg Lanza

Like many of us, I have a core group of very good friends with whom I socialize on a regular basis. We gather over meals, and perhaps a few cocktails, play board games, cards, eat, laugh and carry on. We talk about each other’s jobs and school challenges. The singles amongst us share our dating adventures and misadventures, while the couples talk about domestic bliss and moments that are less than blissful. We talk about the Patriots, tennis, Broadway shows, politics, the weather, and plans for the holidays.

World AIDS Day is coming up on December 1, and it made me realize that with all that we talk about, and how well we know each other, what we don’t talk about, what we have never talked about and what we probably should talk about is, our sexual health.

I realize that, with the exception of one friend whom I know was tested recently after a scare; I have no idea if any of my friends have recently been tested for HIV. For that matter, in most cases I don’t know if they have ever been tested. I don’t know if they are aware of their risk factors, or whether they even know they are at risk. This got me wondering, why is that? Why is it that with this group of friends with whom I share any and every other detail of my life, I don’t share this information?

You don’t need flip charts and PowerPoint slides to make sure your friends know some simple key points that may help keep themselves uninfected, or if infected, into care as soon as possible. By having these discussions with our friends and others we care about, we can work to keep those we care about healthy.

Let me give you an example of how you can slip in a comment about HIV testing.

Friend A: “Hey, did you get your flu shot?”

Me: “Yup! I got it this past week at my doctor’s. I figured I would get it done altogether. I got my flu shot, my tetanus booster, and an HIV test.”

So what are some key points that we can share with those we care about?

  • Testing is free and simple! – There are still places where testing is free, even rapid testing, if you are concerned around using insurance. You can find a testing site near you for HIV and/or other STIs by calling the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050. It’s just that easy!
  • Know your status – Testing is the only way to know if you’re HIV positive. To ensure that you’re uninfected or if infected, getting care, it is important to get an HIV test. This can protect you and your partner’s health. The life-expectancy of someone with HIV continues to rise, as does the quality of that life, and those with undetectable viral loads significantly reduce their risk of transmitting the disease to others.
  • Educate yourself – Knowledge can be your first line of protection. Being aware of the disease, how the disease is transmitted, and how to protect yourself is imperative to helping yourself and others. To find out more about HIV, view our fact sheet.
  • Practice safer sex – Condom use has been proven effective against the transmission of HIV.
  • Don’t Share Works – If you inject drugs, make sure that you use a clean and sterile needle and “works” every time, as HIV is transmitted easily through shared products.

Prevention is the best way to protect yourself against HIV, and promoting the message is the best way to protect the ones you love. Be the change that we need to continue to protect your community by preventing the spread of HIV. Talk with your friends, your loved ones, and keep yourself educated so that we can continue our fight against HIV.

Greg Lanza is the senior program coordinator in our Bureau of Infectious Disease Education and Outreach Office. Click here for a list of events marking World AIDS Day 2012