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The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone should be tested for HIV, and persons in high-risk groups should be tested annually. However, an estimated 55 percent of American adults have never been tested. Testing also comes too late for many people, as 32 percent of HIV diagnoses are classified as “late diagnoses”, when antiviral treatment is less effective. Researchers encourage all of us to help correct this problem. There are two reasons to get everyone tested:
1. Early detection provides the opportunity for early treatment, with a greatly improved prognosis. An HIV-positive person at age 25 can expect an additional 39 years of life with high quality care. Our current arsenal of anti-HIV drugs can be highly effective, but it's necessary to start them before the symptoms of AIDS appear. Testing for HIV is the only way to catch the infection early enough for treatment to make a significant difference.
2. HIV-positive individuals who are not aware of their status are estimated to be 3.5 times more likely to transmit the infection. Antiviral drugs reduce the levels of virus in both blood and genital secretions, thus decreasing the potential for transmission. Individuals who receive high quality care may also be more motivated to protect their partners. The cost of each new HIV infection is estimated at $367,000 in lifetime medical expenses. Thus, testing the remaining 55 percent of Americans could bring some much needed savings in our national health care spending.
Persons at increased risk of HIV infection include men who have sex with men, African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and injection drug users. The rates of HIV diagnosis by transmission category are estimated as follows:
1. Male-to-male sexual contact, 55 percent
2. Heterosexual contact (females), 21 percent
3. Heterosexual contact (males), 10.8 percent
4. Injection drug use, 12.8 percent
5. Other, 0.4 percent
The CDC recommends routine HIV screening in health care settings. I found it convenient to get tested at one of my annual check-ups, when my doctor wanted to see blood tests for cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. It's easy to add the HIV test.