Only 3 in 10 HIV-poz people have virus in check

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Just 3 in 10 people with HIV have their virus under control, a troubling number that demonstrates the challenge facing federal health officials who want to expand treatment to HIV-positive people as a way of slowing new infections.

That’s a key component of the strategy to battle HIV by the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. But a new Vital Signs report from the CDC, released on Tuesday, lays out the tough road ahead for HIV activists, care givers and health officials to stymie the disease:

  • Only 4 in 10 people living with HIV received HIV medical care.
  • Only 3 in 10 people living with HIV achieved viral suppression.
  • Only 86% of people with HIV are diagnosed as HIV-positive.

“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. 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,” CDC Director Tom Frieden says in a prepared statement. “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.”

The new report bolsters the results of two studies released in September. They showed that while half of gay poz men aren’t being treated for HIV, nearly half of gay and bisexual men under 35 aren’t even getting tested for HIV.

The CDC report highlights a finding that federal health officials stress over and over: Treatment is key to prevention, according to Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention.

“There is untapped potential to drive down the epidemic through improved testing and treatment, but we’re missing too many opportunities,” Mermin says in a prepared statement. ”Treatment is crucial. It is one of our most important strategies for stopping new HIV infections.”

Some 1.2 million people in the U.S. are HIV-positive, according to the report, which reviews data from 2011. Of those, some 840,000 people – 70 percent – did not have their virus under control. Other findings about HIV-positive people who did not reach viral suppression:

  • 66 percent had been diagnosed but were not engaged in regular HIV care.
  • 20 percent did not yet know they were infected.
  • 4 percent were engaged in care but not prescribed antiretroviral treatment.
  • 10 percent were prescribed antiretroviral treatment but did not achieve viral suppression. 

The CDC study did not find differences in viral suppression by race, ethnicity, sex or risk group. But it did show that young people – those ages 18-24  ­– were less likely than older age groups to have their HIV under control. Just 13 percent of people aged 18-24 were virally suppressed, compared to 23 percent among those aged 25-34, 27 percent among those aged 35-44, 34 percent among those aged 45-54, 36 percent among those aged 55-64, and 37 percent among those aged 65 and older. The difference, researchers say, is that just 49 percent of HIV-positive 18- to 24-year-olds have been diagnosed. That, the CDC says, shows the need for more HIV testing among young people.

“It’s alarming that fewer than half of HIV-positive young adults know they are infected,” Eugene McCray, the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention director, says in a prepared statement. “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.”

Of course, HIV is still on the rise among gay men of any age.

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