The risky behavior might have occurred years ago, but for many people, the fear of AIDS remains.
Nagging worries accompany every hard-fought illness. Risk taints every sexual relationship. Major life decisions, such as having children, bring forward life and death concerns.
But despite the constant agonizing of "what if," many people who think they have been exposed to the AIDS virus don't get the test that could give them an answer. The Tampa AIDS Network wants those people to reconsider.
Beginning Tuesday, TAN will offer anonymous testing for people who have, at any time in their lives, engaged in behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection. The testing will take place every Tuesday from noon to 8 p.m. in TAN's Education Center, Suite B-3, 11215 N Nebraska Ave.
Anyone who is concerned about carrying the AIDS virus should be tested, either through a doctor or through the county health department, but the TAN program is targeting people in three high-risk categories:
People who have had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or with someone who has developed AIDS.
Men who have had unprotected sex with other men.
People who have shared needles or syringes.
"We really are trying to get to people who feel they may have been at risk," Melissa Perry, TAN's director of education said. "Individuals who have had that kind of behavior are most at risk of HIV infection."
TAN, a non-profit organization that provides education and emotional and physical support to those affected by AIDS, does not want to know anyone's name or social security number. The testing is not about who you are.
It is about addressing fears, learning ways to limit risks and obtaining help if it is needed, officials said.
For that reason, names are never used. Whether they call TAN's office to make an appointment or walk in for the test, each person will be given a number that will be placed on everything from the blood samples to lab results.
The results are returned two weeks later.
Two weeks can feel like an awfully long time when a person is being tested for HIV. Unfortunately, Perry said it cannot be helped. Blood samples are sent to a Tallahassee lab, and those samples that test positive for HIV are submitted to a second test. The whole process takes about two weeks.
In addition to the test, TAN also will be providing individual pre- and post-test counseling for every person being tested. If the person does test positive for carrying HIV, they will be offered immediate information on TAN services and referrals to other community-based help organizations.
Perry said it is important for those infected with HIV to receive care and information, even if they think they cannot pass on the virus.
"We think there is a tremendous benefit to people knowing they are infected," she said. "There's many things a person who has HIV can do to keep healthy for a long period of time."
For information or to schedule an appointment for testing, call 978-8683.