According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., the number of HIV infected youth continues to increase and with lack of testing, upwards of 60 percent do not know they have the disease.
The information was released yesterday in the CDC online publication Vital Signs.
Based on figures from 2010, the report showed that 26 percent of all new HIV cases in the United States were in youths between the ages of 13 and 24. Even more disturbing is the low testing rate among this age group.
With only 13 percent of high school students having been tested, it seems that efforts to make HIV screening common place are not working and neither is education on preventing the disease. This is in a group that is just beginning to become sexually active. According to the CDC, 47 percent of high school student have had sexual relations.
Even among those who have become sexually active, only 22 percent have taken the step of being screen for HIV. When the numbers are broken down further, it shows that those most likely to be infected are African-American males and young, bisexual and gay males.
In the study, it was found that 12,200 new cases of HIV infections took place among the this young age group and of these fully 72 percent of those becoming infected were males having sex with males. Overall, 57 percent of those who contracted the virus were African-Americans, regardless of sexual preference.
“If we are going to see a generation free of AIDS we are going to have to increase testing and expand access to behavior changing programs,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D. in a news conference held this yesterday.
Clearly HIV education as it stands is not working and the lack of testing makes it impossible for those with HIV to be made aware of the condition and to then seek treatment.
When asked if the CDC could make HIV screening a requirement, much in the same way as certain vaccinations are mandatory for students, Frieden would only say that mandatory testing in the past for STD’s prior to issuing a marriage licenses did not work.
“We think it should be absolutely routine in all doctor’s offices,” Frieden said. “You know, for many important health tests, the largest risk factor for not getting it is that someone’s doctor did not recommend it. And here you have a very, very small proportion of people who refuse testing. But unfortunately, a relatively large portion of doctors don’t make it routine, so one thing we need to do is to ensure that testing is routine for all age groups, 13-65.”
This has been the position of the CDC and other government health agencies over the years, that testing should become routine. But according to Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC, many times young people are not given or ignore HIV prevention information and are reluctant to have the testing performed for a variety of reasons.
“Stigma, discrimination, and homophobia also serve as significant barriers to prevention,” Fenton said. “And many lack access to health care, so they don’t receive the preventive services they need.”
Cost and access to health care is a factor for many individuals, but with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, help could be on the way.
According to Frieden, one portion of the ACA will make it more affordable for those with health care insurance to have the testing done. Under the act, many insurance plans will be required to provide HIV testing without the need for a co-pay.
Fenton added that the effort to contain and treat HIV and AIDS requires both education and medical treatment.
“It will take a concerted effort at all levels across our nation to empower all young people, especially young gay and bisexual youth, with the tools and resources they need to protect themselves from HIV infection,” Fenton said.
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