HIV Testing Rates Lag Among Millennials

The CDC finds people between the ages of 15 to 44 are significantly more likely to have never been tested for HIV.

After years of getting the word out about the benefits of HIV testing, it seems like things are beginning to change, for the worse.

HIV Is No Longer Considered a Deadly Threat

Although infection was once considered a death sentence, the advent of antiretroviral therapies (ART) in the 90s suppressed the virus, making it a manageable condition.

A January 2018 Health Statistics Report released by the CDC finds people between the ages of 15 to 44 are significantly more likely to have never been tested. The most common reason for never having been HIV tested was the belief that exposure to the virus was unlikely.

“There are probably a few answers to that question," Dr. Sharon Nachman, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Professor of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine, told MD Magazine as to possible reasons why. "Are we dealing with a population that has always heard about HIV being a matter of taking meds and you’ll be fine? So, the idea of risk behavior and acquisition of HIV isn’t so worrisome. I think that’s part of the problem. The other part of the problem may be that there’s so much going on in their lives that this may not be perceived as their biggest worry.”

More Than One Approach Needed

Almost 40% of millennial-aged women and more than half of men surveyed for this report say that they’ve never been tested for HIV outside of blood donation. Narrowing the age range to only 15- to 24-year-olds, even fewer had ever been tested. Overall, almost 75% of men and more than 60% of women responded that they had never been tested.

“I don’t think there’s 1 action plan that can go across multiple levels of providers," Dr. Nachman says we need more than 1 approach to this problem. "Who are the medical providers millennials are seeing? They’re not going to regular physicians; they’re going to urgent care centers."

Nachman recommends changing how urgent care operate. "They need to offer HIV testing to everyone who walks in, every time. That’s 1 opportunity that we can’t afford to miss. I also think that we have to bring down the price of self-testing. If it’s affordable, there is a better chance that they’ll do it. While those are the best things that we can do, we also need better PR campaigns to get the message out in a format similar to a news report; I don’t think conventional TV ads will do it.”

HIV Infections and the Undiagnosed

Close to 15% of people with HIV are undiagnosed, and about 30% of new HIV infections are transmitted by individuals uninformed of their HIV status.

Nachman says increasing awareness is critical, “I do think the lack of awareness of the need for HIV testing is concerning. About 15% of individuals aren’t aware of their HIV status and, therefore, can unknowingly transmit infection.”

The Take-Home Message

”We can’t be subtle about getting the message out," Nachman adds. "We should take advantage of multiple venues. For example, sending texts out asking people if they’ve been tested this year. The way we’ve proceeded over the past few years needs to be updated. I believe the problem isn’t that we’ve failed at the task, it’s just not the right approach now.”

This article was originally published by MD Magazine.