Friday, April 20 , 2018, 2:17 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 
Your Health
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Pacific Pride Foundation Starts Mobile HIV Testing With New Health Utility Vehicle

Nonprofit staff travel around Santa Barbara County offering free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing with 20-minute results

Cynthia Camacho and Ken Osepyan demonstrate the finger-prick rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing that the Pacific Pride Foundation offers out of its new health utility vehicle.
Cynthia Camacho and Ken Osepyan demonstrate the finger-prick rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing that the Pacific Pride Foundation offers out of its new health utility vehicle. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: Third in a series on sexually transmitted diseases in Santa Barbara County. Click here for a series index.]

A finger prick and a 20-minute wait.

That’s all it takes to get free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing results from Pacific Pride Foundation’s mobile testing van foundation staffers like to call the health utility vehicle.

                          STDs in Santa Barbara County  |  About This Series  |

The van was funded by a Dignity Health grant and custom-made to house two offices with privacy so Pacific Pride can conduct rapid STD testing, offer counseling and go over results with people, said Colette Schabram, executive director of the nonprofit Pacific Pride Foundation.

“We find it’s more successful to go to the people instead of asking them to come to the office,” said Ken Osepyan, education and prevention coordinator for Pacific Pride.

It eliminates the stigma and makes it easy to follow up with a 20-minute result period, he said.

The tests require two drops of blood — one for each test — from a finger print, like a diabetes test.

Pacific Pride works with community partners to identify locations with high-risk populations and takes the van there for testing sessions.

“Clients suggest places and times to go, they’re very open to the possibility and share with others to spread the word,” Schabram said.

The health utility vehicle makes weekly visits to Lompoc — which has no Pacific Pride office — and has gone to events recently at college campuses, job fairs and community events. It also cooperates with businesses, including nightclubs and an adult bookstore, to park in front and offer testing to patrons and passersby.

“We’re matching trends of who is most at risk of HIV and where most of them are in Santa Barbara County,” Schabram said. “The 18-to-24-year-olds are a rapidly growing population contracting HIV, which is why we visit SBCC, UCSB and Allan Hancock in Santa Maria monthly.”

Fifty students were tested during a visit to UC Santa Barbara earlier this year, and the students appreciated the quick result time and confidentiality of the tests, Schabram said.

Cynthia Camacho, Colette Schabram and Ken Osepyan of the Pacific Pride Foundation show off the new health utility vehicle. Click to view larger
Cynthia Camacho, Colette Schabram and Ken Osepyan of the Pacific Pride Foundation show off the new health utility vehicle. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Pacific Pride educates people about harm reduction, but people who get tested aren’t scolded for not using condoms, clinical programs coordinator Cynthia Camacho said.

“We’re trying to be realistic with people,” she explained.

Clients are referred to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department or Planned Parenthood for a comprehensive STD screening.

Fourteen newly diagnosed cases of HIV were reported in 2015, and there were seven people diagnosed in just the first three months of 2016, according to the Public Health Department.

“This trend tells me this service is needed more now than ever,” Camacho said.

Pacific Pride is also reaching out to medical providers to offer training on PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, so they can inform patients, Osepyan said. It is a daily medication designed to lower the risk of HIV infection for high-risk individuals, such as people with a HIV-positive partner.

Both Pacific Pride Foundation offices — 126 E. Haley Street, Suite A-11, in Santa Barbara, and 819 W. Church St. in Santa Maria — offer free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing, syringe exchange, free mental health services, HIV prevention and education, and youth services.

The custom-made white van has two temperature-controlled, private office areas where Pacific Pride Foundation staff offer free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing with 20-minute results. Click to view larger
The custom-made white van has two temperature-controlled, private office areas where Pacific Pride Foundation staff offer free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing with 20-minute results. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Funding cuts led the organization to recently eliminate its food pantry and case management program, and it is transferring clients to the Public Health Department.

“We’re working closely with Pacific Pride Foundation to transfer people to our department,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons said of the case management transfer.

Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease physician, said the Public Health Department wants to reinforce the importance of comprehensive testing for HIV and other STDs.

“What we’re seeing is more people who have both — they may have HIV and other STDs,” she said.

She said many of the diseases and infections can be asymptomatic, so people wouldn’t know they have them unless they get screened.

“Our STDs continue to increase every quarter so it’s going up, up and up. The AIDS numbers weren’t so high in the first quarter but HIV (was diagnosed) in a lot of folks, so it’s really something we want to get on top of.”

How to Prevent STDs

Using condoms correctly, minimizing the number of partners, and avoiding substances that impair decision-making are three ways to be as sexually healthy as possible, Fitzgibbons said.

This year’s STD Awareness Month theme was “Talk, Test, Treat” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sexually active people talk openly and honestly with their partners and health-care providers about sex and STDs.

Condoms are the only birth control that reduces the risk of both pregnancy and STDs, but they cannot always protect against some STDs such as herpes, syphilis or human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts and cervical cancer, according to the CDC.

When to Get Tested for STDs

Sexually transmitted diseases don’t always cause symptoms, but the CDC recommends frequent testing for sexually active adults.

Screening recommendations from the CDC include:

» All adults and adolescents from ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV.

» Annual chlamydia screening of all sexually active women younger than 25 years, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.

» Annual gonorrhea screening for all sexually active women younger than 25 years, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.

» Syphilis, HIV, chlamydia and hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women starting early in pregnancy, with repeat testing as needed, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.

» Screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea for all sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM who have multiple or anonymous partners should be screened more frequently for STDs (i.e., at 3-to-6 month intervals).

» Anyone who has unsafe sex or shares injection drug equipment should get tested for HIV at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).​

                          STDs in Santa Barbara County  |  About This Series  |

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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