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Don't Guess, Get The Test: Increased Testing Key to Stopping HIV Epidemic

NOV 28, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released some good news about HIV, a virus that affects an estimated 36.7 million individuals around the world. According to the latest data, individuals are being diagnosed earlier in their infection.

According to a new Vital Signs report, the estimated median time from infection to diagnosis in 2011 was 3 years and 7 months; however, in 2015, that time was just 3 years. The CDC describes this as a “considerable decrease” that can be attributed to rigorous prevention efforts.

In a telebriefing on the new report, CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, stated that “annual HIV infections are down, a higher proportion of people living with HIV have been diagnosed, and there are more people who have the virus under control.” She stressed that despite the progress highlighted in the report, challenges remain. One of the biggest of these is that not enough individuals are getting tested in accordance with CDC recommendations.

Current recommendations state that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for the virus at least once in their lifetime, and individuals who are at increased risk of infection—such as African American men who have sex with men—should get tested annually.

“An HIV test opens doors to care, treatment, and prevention,” said Dr. Fitzgerald, while Jonathan, Mermin, MD, MPH, the director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention added, “Testing for HIV is central to addressing [the epidemic] in the United States. A positive HIV test allows an individual to get the treatment they need in order to live longer, healthier lives. Testing also opens the door for preventive options for those who do not have HIV but are at risk. Don’t guess, get the test.”

The good news, according to the new report, is that the number of individuals at increased risk of infection who were tested in the previous year has increased. However, testing rates in some groups of individuals remain low. In fact, a recent study conducted throughout several cities in the United States found that 29% of gay and bisexual men, 42% of injection drug users, and 59% of heterosexuals—all at increased risk for HIV—did not get tested within the last year.

The issue does not seem to be a lack of access to health care. “Seven in 10 people at high risk (who were not tested for HIV in the past year) saw a health care provider during that time, signaling a missed opportunity,” said Dr. Mermin.

Big advances in treatment can