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About Half of Millennials Are Not Getting Tested For HIV

A recent CDC report finds those between 15 and 44 years of age are significantly more likely to have never been tested for HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 1.1 million individuals are living with HIV in the United States alone; about 166,000 are unaware of their status. One of the biggest challenges in the fight against the virus is that not enough individuals are getting tested in accordance with CDC recommendations.

Now, the CDC has released a Health Statistics Report that unfortunately further supports this claim. One of the report’s biggest findings was that individuals between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age are significantly more likely to have never been tested for the virus. The most common reason? The belief that exposure to the virus was unlikely.

In the past, an HIV diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence; however, the advent of antiretroviral therapy, or ART, has made the condition manageable. Could this be why younger individuals are not going for recommended testing?

"Are we dealing with a population that has always heard about HIV being a matter of taking meds and you’ll be fine?” Sharon Nachman, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Professor of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine, recently told our sister publication MD Magazine. “So, the idea of risk behavior and acquisition of HIV isn’t so worrisome. I think that’s part of the problem. The other part of the problem may be that there’s so much going on in their lives that this may not be perceived as their biggest worry.”

About 40% of millennial-aged women and more than half of millennial-aged men surveyed reported that they have never been tested for HIV outside of blood donation. When the age range was narrowed to those ranging from just 15 to 24 years of age, it was found that even fewer had ever been tested. Overall, almost 75% of men and more than 60% of women responded that they had never been tested.

“I don’t think there’s 1 action plan that can go across multiple levels of providers," Dr. Nachman said. "Who are the medical providers millennials are seeing? They’re not going to regular physicians; they’re going to urgent care centers."

Dr. Nachman recommends changing how urgent care centers operate. "They need to offer HIV testing to everyone who walks in, every time. That’s 1 opportunity that we can’t afford to miss,” he said. “I also think that we have to bring down the price of self-testing. If it’s affordable, there is a better chance that they’ll do it. While those are the best things that we can do, we also need better PR campaigns to get the message out in a format similar to a news report; I don’t think conventional TV ads will do it.”

Close to 15% of individuals with HIV are undiagnosed, and about 30% of new HIV infections are transmitted by individuals uninformed of their HIV status. Therefore, increasing awareness is critical.

“I do think the lack of awareness of the need for HIV testing is concerning…We can’t be subtle about getting the message out,” Dr. Nachman added. "We should take advantage of multiple venues. For example, sending texts out asking people if they’ve been tested this year. The way we’ve proceeded over the past few years needs to be updated. I believe the problem isn’t that we’ve failed at the task, it’s just not the right approach now.”

A previous version of this article was posted on SpecialtyPharmacyTimes.com.