There are numerous traits that a city might wish to boast the “best of,” such as having a top-ranked football team, the highest quality of life or the safest public transportation. Alex Moreno, clinical program manager at Adolescent Counseling & Testing Services (ACTS), said Miami takes the cake when it comes to an unconventional category — rates of new HIV and AIDS cases.
In 2018, AIDSVu.org reported 26,316 individuals living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and 1,177 new diagnoses in Miami-Dade County. Luckily, for students at the University of Miami and young adults in the greater Miami area, there are resources like ACTS available to help spread awareness of, prevent, test for and treat this virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
HIV — which can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) — is a treatable (but not curable) condition that attacks cells in the body’s immune system, thus making it especially vulnerable to future diseases, according to HIV.gov. HIV may be deadly in late stages. Moreno said, however, that through early detection and testing, individuals with HIV can manage their infections and live a long and healthy life. Certain medications and practices such as wearing condoms can lessen one’s chance of catching HIV or transmitting it to a partner.
While testing is essential, Moreno continued, the virus comes along with a “dirty” stigma that discourages people to seek testing. Either people don’t want to know or don’t know how or where to get tested. Furthermore, he explained that a sexual partner’s looks, sexual orientation or social or financial class does not dictate their HIV status. Just because someone “looks clean” externally doesn’t mean that they can’t be carrying something concerning internally.
The medical community added to, if not built, the unhealthy stigma surrounding HIV by associating the virus with the LGBTQ+ population, specifically gay people, and calling it a “gay-related infectious disease” (GRIDS) when it began sweeping the U.S. over the last century. This is damaging and factually incorrect, as HIV can and does affect people of all sexual orientations.
For UM students and members of the Miami community aged 13 to 24, ACTS is an invaluable and 100% free destination for STD testing, education and treatment. Individuals can book appointments online for STD and/or pregnancy testing at the clinic located at 1580 NW 10th Ave.
Three weeks after “risky behavior” is the ideal time to come in for an STD test because an infection may not be detectable later on. Risky behaviors are sexual encounters involving an exchange of bodily fluids. Even if a condom was used, partners should consider whether or not it was used correctly and for the entire duration of the encounter, as well as whether or not it malfunctioned for any reason, when evaluating behavior. Those who have multiple partners, Moreno said, should get tested every three months as a rule of thumb.
Individuals with scheduled appointments meet with a healthcare provider (either a doctor or nurse practitioner) who can assess their risks and answer any questions they may have about prevention or treatment. If someone tests positive for HIV or another STD, the clinic can assist them with treatment and linkage to care.
Through ACTS’s Promote2Prevent campaign, the clinic further aims to inform the general public via outreach and social media. ACTS’s experts also work with groups from drug abuse prevention organizations to UM athletic teams to educate adolescents and young adults on STDs, sexual health and safety and more, Moreno added. For best STD and pregnancy protection, he advised people who use condoms to check four boxes before unwrapping the rubber. First, no signs of physical defects such as holes; second, an appropriate expiration date; third, a lot number, which indicates that the condom has been approved by the FDA; and lastly, for those with a latex allergy, a safe material composed of a polyurethane alternative.
Of course, this does not nearly cover the full spectrum of comprehensive medical advice, but it’s crucial for all to know the basics and what more resources are out there when it comes to learning about safe sex and STD protection. For more information about ACTS or to reserve an appointment, visit promote2prevent.org or call (305) 243-2174.
words & illustration_kylea henseler