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Many People at Risk of Contracting HIV Are Not Screened Annually

Jaime Rosenberg
Many people at high risk of getting HIV—including those who inject drugs, gay and bisexual men, and partners of people with HIV—are not screened annually and experience delays in diagnosis.
Since 2006, the CDC has recommended routine HIV screening at least once for those age 13 to 64, and annual rescreening for those at higher risk of contracting the virus. Early diagnosis, and subsequently treatment initiation, is crucial for not only achieving viral suppression and reducing the risk of transmission, but also for minimizing neurological damage associated with the virus and cancer risk.

However, less than half of adults have ever gotten tested for HIV, according to researchers from the CDC. Additionally, many people at high risk of getting HIV—including those who inject drugs, gay and bisexual men, and partners of people with HIV—are not screened annually and experience delays in diagnosis.

Using data from the biennial, household-based, multistage probability General Social Survey from 2006 to 2016, the researchers collected information on HIV-related risk behaviors and HIV testing. Respondents were categorized in 4 groups: men who had a male sex partner within the past 12 months, men who did not have a male sex partner within the past 12 months but had multiple female sex partners or injected drugs, women who had multiple sex partners or injected drugs within the past 12 months, and those who did not have any of these risks.

Of the 11,688 respondents, only 39.6% of had ever been tested for HIV. Among those who had been tested, the estimated median interval since their last test was approximately 3 years (1080 days). Only 62.2% of those who reported HIV-related risk behaviors in the past 12 months were ever tested for HIV, of which the median interval since their last test was 1.4 years (512 days).

Testing percentages were highest among those age 25 to 34 (54.4%) and age 35 to 44 (55.1%) and non-Hispanic African American or black (57.4%). The median estimated number of days since their last test was lowest among people age 18 to 24 (332 days) and blacks (534 days).

Researchers noted that these findings were consistent with a recent analysis of National HIV Surveillance System and National HIV Behavioral Surveillance data which also found that many people at higher risk are not screened annually and that HIV diagnosis delays persist. They determined that the median interval from infection to diagnosis was 2 or more years for risk groups.

“Early diagnosis and effective treatment that suppress HIV replication not only reduces individual morbidity and mortality but also reduces the risk for transmission to others,” the CDC researchers concluded. “Delayed diagnosis limits the benefits of early treatment initiation to minimize immune system damage and prevent HIV transmission.”

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