JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Friday is National HIV Testing Day and dozens of locations throughout our area will be offering free testing.
Nearly six thousand people in Duval County are living with HIV or AIDS and event organizers say today is about bringing awareness to the importance of getting tested.
Justin Bell was diagnosed with AIDS seven years ago since June and he said the diagnosis immediately changed his life.
Bell was taking Tylenol for what he thought was the flu, but realized things were much worse when he was hospitalized and in a coma. He was diagnosed with AIDS.
"It's somewhat of a miracle I'm here today, but its also in appreciation of modern medicine and medical technology as well as hope prayer and love," said Bell.
Bell said there are many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS, one being that people think it can never happen to them. He said that's exactly what he thought, and now he's encouraging everybody to get tested Friday on National HIV Testing Day.
"I allowed myself to be quite naive about HIV at the time, being in a relationship I was uninsured, I thought as long as the partner tested negative then I must be negative but we found out I wasn't," said Bell.
Bell said that's a big misconception about HIV: people think if their partner doesn't have it, neither do they, which Bell said is not always the case. There are also other ways to contract the virus, like coming in contact with an infected needle.
Bell was infected during a medical procedure. That's why he and Brandi Williamson with Community Rehabilitation Center are encouraging everyone to take advantage of free testing Friday for National HIV Testing Day.
"There's no excuse not to know your HIV status. Don't wait just for an HIV awareness day, this should be every three to six months, you're getting tested whether at a testing site or with your doctor," said Bell.
Bell is working hard to help prevent and cure the virus, but in the mean time is supporting those who are living with it like he is.
"If you are newly diagnosed with HIV, that is one of the scariest things you can possibly hear; however, you must also know that HIV does not have to define your life and does not lead to death," said Bell.
There are free testing and screening sites throughout four of our counties: Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns.
Click here for a list of all of the sites.
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