Teenage Men Less Likely to Get Tested for HIV

Study suggests testing sites in high schools may increase the likelihood of getting an HIV test.

Study suggests testing sites in high schools may increase the likelihood of getting an HIV test.

Are young gay men being tested enough for HIV? A recent study reveals that young gay and bisexual men between the ages of 14 and 18 years are less likely to get tested for the virus due to various factors.

Many young men fear being recognized at a clinic, which is why they do not get tested for HIV. Others simply do not know where to get tested or think they are invincible and won’t get infected.

“Understanding the barriers to testing provides critical information for intervening, so we can help young men get tested,” said study first author Gregory Phillips II, a research assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an investigator for the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Feinberg.

Scientists suggest that providing teenage men with a service to find testing sites via text messaging or online would be helpful to getting more young gay men tested for HIV. In addition, the findings suggest that installing testing sites in high schools would increase the likelihood of these young men getting tested.

“Providing in-school testing would normalize the process,” Phillips said. “If there is a constant presence of on-site testing at schools, testing would seem less stigmatized. It would also increase knowledge about the testing process and make it less scary.”

Having information available online about the testing process is also expected to help get young men into testing sites. Finger stick or cheek swabs are common options for testing, which teens may not realize. The IMPACT Program at Feinberg created a video that shows young people what it’s like to get an HIV test.

Between June and November 2014, 302 gay, bisexual and queer males aged 14 to 18 participated in the study. The study consisted of a text messaging-based HIV prevention program entitled Guy2Guy.

Questions about their HIV-testing behaviors were included in the study. Of the 302 young men observed in the study, only 20% reported ever getting tested for HIV, a statistic that is drastically lower than that of young men aged between 18 and 19 years. A resounding 75% of men in that age group have reported getting tested for HIV.

In order for young gay men to start getting tested for HIV, there first needs to be sufficient education presented on the topic. Through text message-based phone applications and online resources, young men can better equip themselves with the knowledge they need to stay healthy and get tested.

“Rates of new HIV infections continue to increase among young gay and bisexual mean,” said Brian Mustanski, principal investigator of the study, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Feinberg and director of IMPACT. “Testing is critical because it can help those who are positive receive lifesaving medical care. Effective treatment can also help prevent them from transmitting the virus to others.”