80% of people who could benefit from PrEP aren’t taking it

Less than one in five people who could benefit from PrEP are taking it, only two-thirds of those who have HIV have it under control, and new HIV infections have remained stable in the U.S. after years of declines, according to federal health officials.

The data was revealed Tuesday in a new report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on the fight to end HIV.

Just 18 percent of people who could benefit from PrEP – 219,700 people out of a possible 1.2 million – took it in 2018, the CDC reported. PrEP is the use of a once-a-day pill taken by HIV-negative people to reduce the risk of infection by up to 92 percent, according to the CDC.

“There’s been a rapid increase in the number of people taking PrEP over the past three years,” according to Eugene McCray, director of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

“But there’s no doubt that PrEP uptake is too low and we’re working hard to increase access to PrEP especially among gay and bisexual men, women, young people, African Americans and Latinos,” he added.

The CDC also reported that 14 percent of people with HIV do not know they have it. That’s about 154,000 people, McCray said.

“Without a diagnosis, they couldn’t take advantage of a treatment that would help them stay healthy and prevent transmission to other people,” McCray told reporters on a conference call.

People ages 13 to 24 were less likely to know their HIV status than those age 25 and older, according to a press release.

Over a third of people who know they have HIV are not virally suppressed. That’s about 318,000 people, according to McCray.

“Good treatment is good prevention,” he said. “Suppression is a marker for effective HIV treatment. People who get the virus suppressed quickly live longer, healthier lives.”

Young people, African Americans and people who inject drugs are least likely to be virally suppressed, according to McCray.

The CDC also estimated that the rate of new HIV infections has remained stable from 2013 to 2017 – at about 38,000 per year – but warned that's too high.

“The number of people who acquire HIV each year is unacceptably high,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, and STD Prevention. “Ending this epidemic would be one of the greatest public health triumphs in our nation’s history.”

“The time is now” to end HIV in the U.S., according to CDC Director Robert Redfield (photo).

“Those living with HIV are our best teachers,” he said in a press release. “They are key to helping us reach people where they are so that we can better diagnose and link patients to care.”

HIV testing, treatment and prevention are the pillars of the Ending the Epidemic Initiative announced by President Trump in February. The goal is to end HIV/AIDS by 2030. Four metro Atlanta counties – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett – are among the 48 counties in the U.S. targeted as part of the plan.

Atlanta has the second-highest rate of new HIV infections, according to the CDC.

PrEP use has grown dramatically in Atlanta, but still trails other cities, federal health officials said in March. Gay and bisexual men make up 70 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S., officials also said.