Some highlights of the CDC Vital Signs report on HIV testing include:
• In 2009, an estimated 82.9 million Americans ages 18-64—45% of this age group—reported they had been tested for HIV.
• At least 1 in 3 Americans who test positive for HIV is tested too late in his or her infection to get the full advantage of life-saving treatment.
• Gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men have the highest rates of HIV, but a 2008 study conducted in 21 major US cities, found that about 40% had not been tested in the past year.
• African Americans made up more than half of HIV diagnoses in 2008, but 2 in 5 African Americans have never been tested.
CDC recommended in 2006 that HIV testing become a routine part of medical care, including testing of all adolescents and adults at least once, testing at least annually for persons at increased risk, and testing of women during each pregnancy. Since that time, HIV testing has increased, and more people are being tested for HIV than ever before. However, many challenges remain: 55% of Americans ages 18 to 64 still have never been tested, according to CDC Vital Signs. And of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, 1 in 5 do not know they are infected.
More needs to be done. HIV testing is vitally important because it can save lives. For anyone who is infected, it is important to know his or her HIV status in order to access effective life-extending treatment, avoid HIV transmission to partners, and have a better quality of life.
Treatment for HIV is most effective before symptoms develop. It can do much to slow the infection that leads to AIDS and death. Without treatment a person infected with HIV will develop AIDS in about 10 years. With early treatment a 25-year-old adult can survive on average 39 more years.
According to the Vital Signs report, nearly one-third (32%) of the people found with HIV in 2007 were diagnosed late. This means that they likely had HIV for a long time without knowing it because they developed AIDS soon (less than one year) after their HIV test.
Health care providers play a critical role in stopping the spread of HIV as most HIV testing is conducted in health care settings. It is important that patients listen to their doctors and it is important that doctors and other health care providers speak openly and honestly with patients about HIV, and offer routine testing per CDC recommendations.
CDC also plays a critical role. We are committed to strengthening our efforts against the epidemic and working with partners to increase HIV testing. CDC continues to expand its efforts in areas where the burden of disease is greatest. We recently announced an expansion of a successful HIV testing initiative to reach more hard-hit populations, including African Americans, Latinos, men who have sex with men and injection drug users. In 2010, CDC provided more than $60 million to support HIV testing efforts in 30 of the hardest hit jurisdictions in the United States.
In addition, CDC provides funds to all health departments and more than 130 community-based organizations to implement HIV prevention programs, including HIV testing. We are also working to get messages out about testing through the Act Against AIDS campaign. Of critical importance, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, recently released by the White House, provides a new opportunity to refocus and intensify federal, state, and local HIV testing efforts.
Now more than ever, effective HIV prevention is a critical public health priority for the U.S. and the world, and HIV testing to identify those infected is a vital component of that effort. Working together, we can increase HIV testing. Everyone needs to know how important HIV testing is – it is a simple measure that can literally save the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and help to bring an end to this tragic epidemic.