CDC report: More HIV tests than ever, but still 1 in 5 don’t know they have virus

“With most adults and with nearly a third of high-risk people having never been tested for HIV, we need to do more to ensure that all Americans have access to voluntary, routine and early HIV testing in order to save lives and reduce the spread of this terrible disease,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, CDC director, in a press release.

Making voluntary HIV testing a routine practice in medical facilities is a top priority of the CDC, Frieden said during a teleconference call today about the new HIV testing numbers. The CDC is also working with community and civic organizations to make HIV testing available in such places as community centers and churches, he said.

“We would like to see HIV testing as common as a cholesterol screening,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Program at the CDC during the teleconference call.

The increase in HIV tests shows “progress is possible,” Frieden added.

“It is certainly very far from success,” he acknowledged, however.

That “far from success” acknowledgment includes the fact that 55 percent of adults — and 28.3 percent of adults with a risk factor for HIV (such as men who have sex with men, people of color, injection drug users and sex workers) — have not been tested, the CDC reported.

For example, Frieden noted that 70 percent of gay and bisexual men who were diagnosed after having the virus for some time often had contacts with medical fields but were not offered an HIV test.

If people at risk, including men who have sex with men, are tested regularly there are definite signs that late diagnoses are lowered and those who know they are HIV positive are willing to take more precautions to reduce the spread of the virus, explained Mermin.

“HIV testing is the fundamental link,” Mermin said. “The disease is transmitted by people who are not aware of their status.”

What about those on ADAP waiting list?

Georgia now has more than 700 people on its federal and state funded AIDS Drug Assistance Program and other states also have hundreds of people waiting for life-saving drugs on these waiting lists.

With more HIV testing, there comes more HIV positive results — but with so many people not able to get the care they need even if they do discover they are HIV positive, how does the federally-funded CDC acknowledge this discrepancy which is funded at the federal and state levels, how does the federally-funded CDC acknowledge that more testing is good but more people who receive HIV diagnoses may not have the resources to get proper care.

“We understand this concern, especially in this time of economic hardship, but we absolutely must encourage routine HIV testing,” said Rachel Powell, a CDC spokesperson.

“Not testing people does not render them uninfected – in fact, we will need to care for these people once they are eventually diagnosed or become ill due to the infection – and we know that the later you are diagnosed, the higher the treatment and care costs,” she said.  “Further, if we don’t test and diagnose those with HIV early, we will not avert the costs of those that they will unknowingly infect (because we know that once people know their status, they take steps to protect their partners).

“CDC’s belief is that finding people early will prevent new infections and ultimately reduce healthcare costs – but we do recognize that in the short term, diagnosing more people with HIV means that treatment and care costs may increase,” Powell added.

The CDC also estimates that a lifetime cost of a person living with HIV/AIDS comes to more than $350,000.

The new HIV testing data shows that 45 percent more of adults have been tested for HIV in their lives in 2009 after testing rates held steady at about 40 percent from 2001 to 2006.

The data on the results of HIV testing and its effectiveness is the first time the CDC has reported such information.

“This summer, the White House announced the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which includes the goal of increasing the proportion of HIV-infected individuals who are aware of their HIV status to 90 percent,” states a CDC press release.

“Consistent with this goal, in 2010 CDC provided $60 million to support HIV testing efforts in 30 of America’s jurisdictions most heavily impacted by HIV. The funding allows CDC and its partners to expand a successful three-year initiative to increase access to HIV testing among African-Americans, Latinos, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users.”

There are approximately 1.1 million adults living with HIV in the U.S., the CDC estimates.


Top photo: Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC says that while progress is being made it getting more people tested for HIV, results released today are ‘certainly far from success.’ (Photo courtesy CDC)