CDC Urges More HIV Testing of Young Americans

Tested? Electron micrograph details HIV virus particles.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More than one-half of the HIV-infected young people in the United States have never received a test for the virus, according to a study released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier studies by CDC have found that 82% of the HIV-infected people in the country know that they are infected with the virus. But in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released today, researchers found that 59% of HIV-infected people between the ages of 13 and 24 had not received a test for the AIDS virus. High school students had the lowest testing rates: 12.9% overall, which rose to 22.2% in those who reported having had sexual intercourse.

CDC recommends routine testing for people 13 years of age and older, which benefits both individuals and communities. People cannot start treatment for HIV infection unless they know their status, and the powerful antiretroviral drugs that now exist can both stave off disease for decades and make people less infectious. When people know their status, they are also more likely to take precautions to prevent spreading their infection to others.

At a teleconference for the media, CDC said it's expanding efforts to increase testing in youth. "Clearly the data suggest we need to do more and we need to do more faster," said Kevin Fenton, who directs CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden said the country needs to focus its testing, treatment, and prevention efforts on the locations and populations that are hardest hit by the epidemic. As the report stresses, African American men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly in the South and Northeast, account for a disproportionate percentage of the new infections. In all, CDC estimates that 12,200 U.S. youth became infected in 2010, and of those, 45.9% were African American men—the vast majority of whom were MSM. "This is the future of the HIV epidemic in this country," Frieden said. "I don't think there's a quick and simple answer to this. We are not in support of mandatory testing, but we do think there are ways to make significant advances."