A local nonprofit that provides free HIV testing is warning that it tested more people positive for the virus in January than in any other month in its 20-year history.

North Charleston-based Lowcountry AIDS Services says seven people tested positive in the month of January, the largest number in a single month. In contrast, no one tested positive in January 2017.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recorded 56 “newly-diagnosed cases” in January 2017, and 666 new HIV positive cases from January to October 2017. Numbers for November, December, and January are not yet available.

Lowcountry AIDS Services tests an average of 130 people a month. Throughout all of 2017, 20 people tested at the facility tested positive.

“We only had 15 testing days in the month of January because we were closed for the snowstorm and we don’t test on Fridays,” said prevention program manager Adam Weaver. “Out of those 15 days, we identified seven positive. It’s definitely shocking.”

Weaver says that the organization’s highest testing months have traditionally been June and November.

The numbers are not necessarily cause for alarm, however.

“It’s important to note that an increase in case numbers could reflect better screening activities that more effectively identify existing cases,” a DHEC spokesperson said via e-mail. “There is not necessarily an increase in new infections.”

An upgrade in testing technology might bring more cases to the surface.

Third-generation tests screen a person for antibodies, which the Centers for Disease Control says can take three to 12 weeks to provide accurate results.

Lowcountry AIDS Services is expecting a delivery of fourth-generation testing technology this month. The new tests would screen for both antibodies and antigens, the toxins that tell the body to produce antibodies.

“We’ll hopefully have that within the next month,” said Weaver, who is working with DHEC to secure the tests. “That can potentially detect HIV infection as early as two to three weeks.”

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