Louisiana had the nation's fourth highest AIDS case rate in 2010, and Baton Rouge and New Orleans were first and fifth, respectively, among U.S. cities in AIDS case rates. These high rankings emphasize the necessity for Louisianians to take action by getting tested for HIV.

Today is National HIV Testing Day, and dozens of sites around Louisiana are offering free HIV testing. The Louisiana Department of Health encourages Louisianians to get tested and learn whether they are infected.

More than one million people are living with HIV in the United States, but one in five doesn't know they are infected.  At the end of 2011, there were 18,426 people living with HIV in Louisiana. More than 1,300 of those people were newly diagnosed that year. Of particular concern is the African-American population; this group makes up 32 percent of the state's population, yet represented 73 percent of the state's new HIV cases in 2011.

"If people with HIV have the virus diagnosed early, they are able to receive treatment and care early enough to delay the onset of AIDS," said LDH Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane. "Early diagnosis also gives us the opportunity to provide outreach and education to help those with HIV better understand how to prevent spreading the virus to others."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV as part of routine health care. An HIV test is recommended once a year for people at increased risk-such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users or people with multiple sex partners. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). CDC also recommends that pregnant women get tested early in their pregnancy so they can take steps to prevent passing HIV to their babies, and that testing is also required under Louisiana state law.

To find a place for confidential and free testing, visit HIVtest.org or HIV411.org.

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.