The City of St. Joseph Health Department will offer free HIV and hepatitis C testing today at Price Chopper. The process, which includes equipment shown on a table at the health department, requires a small finger prick and is considered generally easy and fast.

All it takes is a finger prick and 15 minutes, and it could be a lifesaver.

“I think knowledge is power, and sometimes as far as a health diagnosis we can sometimes shy away like ‘I don’t want to know,’” says Mitzi Teliczan, health educator for the City of St. Joseph Health Department. “In the case of these two illnesses, which are not only harmful to the body, but also communicable and that you can spread them, it’s even more important to know so that you can take good care of your body.”

National HIV Testing Day is today. Local and national agencies encourage all people to consider their risk and get tested for HIV. The City of St. Joseph Health Department is offering both HIV and hepatitis C testing free of charge for what they call National Testing Day.

“The testing that we do is so easy. It just takes a little finger stick, just on the end of your finger,” Teliczan says. “You can get your results within 15 to 20 minutes. We are pretty excited.”

As of 2014, 11,560 people in Missouri had been diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus. Of those, 83 percent were men. In 2015, there were 465 new cases of HIV diagnosed statewide, according to AIDSVu. Nationwide, HIV is most prevalent in southern states, including Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

“I get questions all the time about HIV. Is there a cure? Are there still people dying of HIV? Is there still a lot of HIV?,” says Sarah Knorr, family nurse practitioner with Northwest Health Services. “There’s great treatment for HIV now, including medication that can help an individual lead a full and complete life for the most part. At this time, there’s no cure, but there’s excellent medications to treat it.”

Early detection is key, Knorr says. HIV weakens the immune system, and if left untreated, it can lead to AIDS, which leaves the immune system extremely weakened.

“At that point, a person’s immune system just can’t fight off infections as quickly, and it can eventually end in death,” Teliczan says. “We must have our immune system.”

HIV is transmitted through sexual contact or contact with blood or other bodily fluids with a person who has the virus. Gay and bisexual men remain the population most effected by HIV. People who inject drugs are also at a higher risk.

Although it is not transmitted casually, such as through touch or saliva, or by sharing food or drink, it’s not safe for anyone to assume it’s impossible for them to contract HIV, Teliczan says.

“I think a lot of people say, ‘Well, I know this person. I grew up with this person. This person is a good person.’ As far as a virus, it doesn’t care who you are,” she says. “It matters whether or not you are infected, and testing is a very important way to find out if you are infected or not.”

The CDC encourages people from the ages of 13 to 64 to get tested annually for HIV. Baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, are at a five times greater risk for having hepatitis C than other age groups and should be tested.

In honor of National HIV Testing Day and its own testing day, the City of St. Joseph Health Department will hold free HIV and hepatitis C testing from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at Price Chopper, 2219 N. Belt Highway.

“A person can come get their finger stuck, walk around, get their groceries and by the time they are ready to check out, come back and get their test results,” Teliczan says. “It’s that easy. It’s confidential. We will be talking with folks. If people have questions, maybe they don’t want to test, but they have a question, they can come and visit with us.”

At Northwest Health Services, they offer HIV prevention, testing and treatment, as well as testing and treatment for hepatitis C. The City of St. Joseph Health Department also offers HIV and other STD testing for $10 by appointment.

“It can happen, even if you think it can’t happen. It’s good to be tested,” Knorr says. “With early treatment, it increases your likelihood of living a long and normal life.”

Jena Sauber can be reached at jena.sauber@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPSauber.