Our state, Florida, has had the nation’s third-highest rate of new HIV diagnoses.

More than 115,000 people in Florida lived with HIV in 2017, about 12.5 percent of all cases in the entire United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if that’s not bad enough, about 15 percent of those individuals, or roughly 19,200 people, were not aware of their status and therefore not receiving care.

Knowing that, keep in mind that National HIV Testing Day is June 27 — a day to get tested for HIV, find out your status, and get linked to care and treatment if necessary.

Let’s cover some background first: HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. It damages your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.

HIV is spread only in certain body fluids from another person who has HIV. These fluids are blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. That means, HIV is spread mainly by having sex or sharing injection drug equipment, such as needles, with someone who has HIV.

Anyone can get HIV, but you can take steps to protect yourself from HIV infection. Those steps include, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Get tested and know your partner’s HIV status.
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors.
  • Use condoms.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Get tested and treated for STDs (sexually transmitted disease).
  • Talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
  • Don’t inject drugs.

Final thoughts: CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and those at high risk get tested at least once a year. Some sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (every 3 to 6 months).

Learn more about the basics of HIV and AIDS here.