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National News

Many in US With HIV Don't Know It or Seek Care

February 26, 2002

About half of Americans infected with HIV either do not know they have it or do not receive drugs that are improving the lives of other infected people, federal health officials said this week. Other findings also show that many infected patients who do receive HIV drugs benefit less than they might because they start the drugs too late, according to CDC officials.

In Seattle at the Ninth Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, CDC officials said that an estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans are infected with HIV. "We have more people living with HIV in this country than ever before," said Dr. Harold W. Jaffe, who directs the CDC's AIDS program, "but we have an unacceptable number of people not receiving treatment or prevention services," early enough, a problem that is disproportionately worse among blacks and Hispanics. "The number of infected Americans who are living with HIV has increased by about 50,000 in the last two years," Dr. Jaffe said.

About 670,000 American know they are infected, but an additional 180,000 to 280,000 have the virus and do not know it, according to a report by Dr. Patricia Fleming's team at the CDC. Of the individuals who knew they were infected, about one-third, or 223,000, were not receiving care.

Fleming's team developed data from 25 states where HIV infections are monitored to create a mathematical model to predict HIV prevalence in the remaining states. From the model, the team estimated that a quarter of infected people might not know they were infected.

According to Jaffe, a number of factors underlie the problem. These include younger people falsely believing that current HIV therapy can cure; younger people at risk who have grown tired of warnings about AIDS; and misleading drug advertisements that show infected individuals looking perfectly healthy.

Lateness of treatment for HIV is of great concern to the researchers. "A lot of AIDS deaths are occurring in people who come in off the street for care late, with very advanced disease," Jaffe said. Five percent of AIDS cases were diagnosed within a month of death.

The CDC has begun public campaigns to increase the number of people who get HIV tests, and it is urging wider use of a rapid HIV test so individuals can get the results in one day. The Food and Drug Administration has licensed only one such HIV test, but a number of other rapid tests are sold elsewhere in the world. Jaffe urged more companies to seek approval in US markets. The CDC also recommends that hospitals follow a guideline to make HIV testing more of a routine part of health care.

According to Fleming, there are hints of improvement. A national study in 1996 found that of those who knew they were infected, about half were receiving care. Currently, two-thirds of those with HIV who know they are infected are in care. Still, she said, "we have a long way to go."

Back to other CDC news for February 26, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
New York Times
02.26.02; Lawrence K. Altman

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.



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