WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. efforts to test nearly everyone for the AIDS virus have stalled and just 40 percent of adults in the country have ever been tested for the fatal and incurable virus, according to a government report on Thursday.
New methods are needed to get more people tested, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in issuing the report.
“In 2006, 40.4 percent (an estimated 71.5 million persons) of U.S. adults aged 18 to 64 years reported ever being tested for HIV infection,” the CDC wrote in its weekly report on death and disease.
“In addition, 10.4 percent (an estimated 17.8 million persons) reported being tested in the preceding 12 months, and 23 percent of persons who acknowledged having HIV risk factors reported being tested in the preceding 12 months.”
Just last week, the CDC reported that far more Americans are being newly infected with the AIDS virus every year than previously estimated — 56,000 a year instead of 40,000. The CDC used new methods to come up with the higher number.
Both reports, released to coincide with the International AIDS Society meeting in Mexico City, show that testing efforts are falling far short, with a quarter of the 1 million or more Americans infected with HIV not even knowing it.
“The data in this report suggest that progress in HIV testing stalled in the mid- to late- 1990s and new strategies such as expanded screening in health-care settings appear to be warranted,” the CDC said.
The AIDS virus, which infects 33 million people globally and has killed more than 25 million, is spread in blood, semen, breast milk and other bodily fluids. Sex, shared needles and mother-to-child transmission are the most common ways it is spread.
The CDC and other experts have for years agreed that it is not enough to test only people who admit they are high risk.
They have recommended that the HIV test be a standard test done during any ordinary doctor’s visit, to remove the stigma of having to ask for it and to catch people who may have neglected being tested, or who may not have known they were at risk.
“Early diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection enables infected persons to obtain medical care that can improve the quality and length of their lives and adopt behaviors to prevent further HIV transmission,” the CDC said.
If people are diagnosed before they develop symptoms, they can take a cocktail of drugs that will keep them healthy, even if it does not cure the infection. Untreated, people develop AIDS, which destroys the immune system and leaves them vulnerable to infections and cancer.
“Among all persons with HIV infection diagnosed in 2005, 38 percent received a diagnosis of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) within one year of their first positive HIV test,” the CDC said.
(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Mohammad Zargham)