According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV and 1 in 8 individuals don't know they have it. Simply stated, HIV is a virus that attacks the cells that protect us against infections. If left untreated, HIV can progress to AIDS, the final stage of the infection resulting in death.

Although testing can happen at any time, Tuesday is a day set aside to promote HIV awareness and testing.

How is HIV spread? HIV is spread through contact of an infected person's body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids and breast milk. You cannot get HIV by shaking hands with an HIV-infected person, nor can you get HIV from a toilet seat used by a person with HIV. It is also not spread through mosquitoes or ticks.

Why get tested? In the U.S. nearly 50,000 individuals become infected with HIV each year. A person with HIV may not show symptoms for years, but can still pass the virus to others. Although the numbers have remained somewhat stable, approximately 13,000 die of AIDS each year. For active duty Soldiers, if you are diagnosed with HIV, your military readiness becomes affected and you are considered nondeployable. You can choose to remain on active duty or separate. If you remain on active duty, you will be subject to frequent lab testing, antiretroviral medications to help prevent HIV's progression, as well as mandatory annual preventive medicine counseling. In addition, a reclassification may be in order, depending on your military occupational specialty.

Who should get tested? If you are between the ages of 13 and 64, you should get tested at least once. Other factors increasing the risk of HIV transmission include: having vaginal or anal sex without protection, having a sexually transmitted infection, exchanging sex for money and sharing needles and syringes with others.

When to get tested? Make it a part of your routine health screening and especially after an exposure to an STI. Per Army Regulation 600-110, all military personnel are required to have a repeat HIV test at three, six and 12 months after testing positive for an STI--non-military personnel are also encouraged to test regularly. There is a window period of several weeks in which tests can detect HIV antibodies in an individual. Currently in the U.S., "men who have sex with men" are the most heavily affected population for HIV infection and should get tested every three to six months. Pregnant women should also get tested at the beginning of each pregnancy.

Where and how to get tested? Fluid for testing for HIV is obtained from blood or body fluid samples. Your primary care provider can put in an order for the test at your request. There are also test kits available online or at most pharmacies. If a test results positive, additional testing will be necessary to ensure a proper diagnosis is made. Tricare beneficiaries may also contact Army Public Health Nursing located at Ireland Army Health Clinic, on the fourth floor at (502) 624-9355 for testing and education.