Today is National HIV Testing Day and if there was any time to conquer those fears associated with getting tested for HIV, this is it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even has an easy tool for finding a nearby testing center, which we’ve republished below. Scroll down, look up yours and then forward the tool to others. Fear of the unknown has plagued humanity for ages, but it turns out blissful ignorance is anything but. In 2007, [nearly 18,00 people in the United States lost their lives to HIV/AIDS](http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2010/Pages/HIVtestingDay10.aspx). Every year 56,000 new HIV infections occur. Federal health officials point to undiagnosed infections as a primary cause for the virus’ continued spread. The CDC believes 1 in 5 of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. don’t know they’re infected. In the CDC’s 2008 [HIV Surveillance Report](http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/factsheets/us_overv…), the most recent data available, [African Americans remained at the tip-top of the list](http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/aa/index.htm) of groups “at risk” for HIV infection. [African Americans make up just about 13 percent](http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/aa/index.ht) of the U.S. population but account for nearly half, or 49 percent, of all new HIV cases. We are also the least likely to survive the effects of the immune-system ravaging virus, most likely due to late detection. Antiretroviral treatment is most effective when begun before HIV has overtaken the immune system. [Passing The Test: the Challenges and Opportunities of HIV Testing in Black America issued in 2009](http://blackaids.org/image_uploads/article_679/.pdf), by the Black AIDS Institute, listed “high prevalence of undiagnosed HIV infection” as one of the lead reasons why HIV infection rates are higher among African Americans than any other racial/ethnic group. Aside from fear of the unknown, discrimination and social stigma are powerful reasons why many people may tip toe around getting tested. Anxiety, guilt and outright fear are real feelings many of us face any time our health is put in questioned–and tested. That’s, of course, those of us who have ready access to quality health care.If you don’t get good care broadly–something [studies have consistently found to be true for African Americans](http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2007/03/the_colorblind_attack_on_your…)–you’re unlikely to encounter an HIV test, either. The CDC says that’s part of why it has directed that HIV testing be offered to all patients as a routine part of care in hospitals and clinics and has created less stringent patient-consent requirements. Previously, HIV testing required specific consent; CDC has moved in recent years to instead allow generalized consent for health services to encompass HIV testing as well. **What You Can Do** The first step to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic is testing, testing, testing. The CDC recommends all people between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once, regardless of sexual behavior or drug use. Those at higher risk should be tested once annually. Don’t be passive by waiting for symptoms to occur before getting tested–early detection is the best way to prevent spreading the virus as well as receive effective treatment. Testing sites can be found nationwide and they are free, confidential, pain-free, with results in less than an hour. Education is the next step; too often people are misguided about [how HIV is transmitted](http://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/). Steps must be taken to remove the stigma associated with testing for and being infected with HIV/AIDS. That leads us to the final step: be active. Demanding community leaders and elected officials maintain open discussion about HIV is crucial. In the upcoming months, President Obama is expected to deliver a [comprehensive five-year plan to battle HIV/AIDS](http://www.thebody.com/index.html) in this country. It will be the first time in the epidemic’s nearly 30-year history that the U.S. has had a comprehensive plan for addressing it. That’s hard to believe, but it’s a useful reminder that keeping communities healthy means engaging the political process, too. To learn your status find a testing site near you:

*Photo: istockphoto/simonmcconico*