Clear Creek County launches free HIV, Hepatitis C, STI testing as result of new partnership

Clear Creek County Public Health Department and Boulder County AIDS Project establish new program to bring testing to the community

Nina Joss
njoss@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/21/22

On Friday, Sept. 16, community members will be able to walk into the Clear Creek County Health and Wellness Center in Idaho Springs and walk out with information about  their status of HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections.

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Clear Creek County launches free HIV, Hepatitis C, STI testing as result of new partnership

Clear Creek County Public Health Department and Boulder County AIDS Project establish new program to bring testing to the community

Posted

On Sept. 16, community members will be able to walk into the Clear Creek County Health and Wellness Center in Idaho Springs and walk out with information about their status of HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections.

This will be the first monthly wellness clinic resulting from a new partnership between the Boulder County AIDS Project and Clear Creek County Public Health to provide free rapid HIV, Hepatitis C and other STI testing to the community.

After the September clinic, the next testing date will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 12.

Following the first two clinics, future dates will be scheduled monthly based on community turnout.

“HIV and Hepatitis C testing is frequently not available for free, and I think it’s especially harder to find for free in non-metropolitan areas,” said Mariah Frank, prevention director at BCAP. “And so I think that was the start of [the idea for this partnership].”

The partnership arrives at Clear Creek in the wake of rising STI rates in Colorado in recent years.

According to a 2020 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state reported a 55.0% increase in gonorrhea cases and a 129.6% increase in syphilis cases since 2016.

New HIV diagnoses in Colorado have been increasing since 2013, according to a 2019 CDPHE report on HIV in the state.

Clear Creek has not been immune to rising rates of STIs, but its specific rates are generally lower than those in surrounding counties. For both chlamydia and gonorrhea, Clear Creek had the fifth lowest county rate in the state in 2020, according to the CDPHE report. For primary and secondary syphilis, Clear Creek had zero new cases in 2020, the report showed.

According to Frank, HIV rates tend to be higher in metropolitan areas for many reasons. But although HIV, Hepatitis C and STI rates are not as high in Clear Creek as they are in other Colorado counties, she said that testing there is still meaningful.

“I think what is important to highlight is that the prevalence [of HIV and Hepatitis C] in Clear Creek isn't zero,” she said. “And so having this service up there, I think is still very worthwhile. In general — across the population in Colorado, in the nation, probably in the world — we're undertested.”

As part of its mission to provide support, advocacy and education to people living with or affected by HIV in Boulder, Broomfield, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, BCAP offers testing for HIV and Hepatitis C in its Boulder office and at off-site locations, Frank said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevention team at BCAP paused its regular testing clinics due to protocols in place to protect their community members, many of whom were immunocompromised, she said.

After hosting an STI testing and education fair in June, the Clear Creek County Public Health Department reached out to Frank to establish a regular testing service there.

“I love anything that creates efficiency,” said Andrea Uliano, public health nurse at the Clear Creek County Public Health Department. “So to me, it was a no-brainer to bring in people who want to be here who already know what they're doing, are trained, they have good support.”

For each wellness clinic, BCAP staff will transport HIV and Hepatitis C tests from their office in Boulder to Clear Creek. Tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis will be provided by the Clear Creek County Public Health Department, Uliano said. In a single visit, an individual can be tested for all five of these infections.

Frank said that she and her team of prevention coordinators at BCAP are trained by the state to administer HIV and Hepatitis C rapid tests. In addition, they are trained in how to run an informative session that goes along with the testing. These sessions are conducted with the knowledge of trauma-informed practices, harm reduction and “meeting people where they’re at,” she said.

“I think there's a lot to be said about the space that our test counselors are able to hold for folks,” she added. “Other than just running the test and providing a result, there's a lot of information exchange and referrals that are made in that process as well.”

Based on an individual’s test results, Frank’s team can provide referrals for confirmatory testing and medical care as well as information about HIV prevention medication, she said. In addition, they can provide referrals for services related to mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence.

Clinic attendees also can opt to take a rapid HIV/STI test at home, said Dr. Timothy Ryan, director of public and environmental health for Clear Creek. But taking the test in the clinic is also anonymous and confidential and it provides the additional opportunity to receive extra resources and information from the team on site.

“It is completely confidential,” Ryan said. “You can come in and seek these resources, and nobody needs to know.”

Ryan said that he hopes the private testing offered by this partnership will help combat the stigma that surrounds these five diseases, and that it will encourage people to come and get tested.

Frank also hopes that people will attend the wellness clinics to learn about the resources and options that exist.

“I'm excited and hopeful for the community to take this additional step in doing something for themselves and for their health,” she said. “You don't have to suffer in not knowing, or suffer in silence when you do know. There are tons of resources for people.”

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