A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, only 40 percent were receiving HIV medical care, and 30 percent had achieved viral suppression.
The Vital Signs report was based on data from 2011 and gathered from the National HIV Surveillance System from 50 states and the District of Columbia, and from the Medical Monitoring Project from 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Among the newly diagnosed patients surveyed, 80 percent were linked to care within three months of diagnosis. Linkages to care were lowest among 13-24 year olds with 74 percent linked to care and blacks with 76 percent.
“It’s alarming that fewer than half of HIV-positive young adults know they are infected,” said Dr. Eugene McCray, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “Closing that gap could have a huge impact on controlling HIV – knowing your status is the first critical step toward taking care of your own health and avoiding transmission to others.”
According to the report, age is an important factor in HIV care. The younger a person can be diagnosed and treated, the more likely they will live a longer and healthier life. Patients who begin ART in their 20s can expect to live an additional 51 years, or about the same life expectancy as an HIV-negative 20-year-old.
But the study is unclear on why so many are not receiving treatment. One possibility is the difficulty in navigating the US health care system. Another is younger people do not get tested enough and so miss out on early diagnosis. Whatever the case, the study does show that diagnosis and linking patients to HIV medical treatment should be top priority.
"For people living with HIV, it’s not just about knowing you’re infected – it’s also about going to the doctor for medical care,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “And for health care facilities, it’s not just about the patients in your care – it’s every person diagnosed, and every person whose diagnosis has not yet been made.
“Key to controlling the nation’s HIV epidemic is helping people with HIV get connected to – and stay in – care and treatment, to suppress the virus, live longer and help protect others,” said Frieden.