Routine HIV Testing May Benefit Teenagers
November 30, 2007
A study of 1,222 sexually active 15- to 21-year-olds found that key HIV risk behaviors, like having unprotected sex, had no impact on whether they sought HIV testing. Instead, the single most important factor was whether they had ever been tested before.
The teens and young adults in the study, who hailed from three US cities, were considered to be at high risk for HIV due to having had unprotected sex, said Dr. Larry K. Brown and colleagues at Brown University Medical School. The youths were randomly assigned either to attend a three-hour HIV prevention workshop or go on a wait-list. The authors then tracked the participants' rates of HIV testing during the three-month study period.
According to the researchers, the prevention workshop did not appear to make any difference in the odds of participants getting an HIV test; one-quarter in each group reported getting tested during the study's duration. Those who had ever been tested before were approximately three times more likely to seek testing over the next three months.
"These findings were a bit surprising, since we thought teens would be more likely to get an HIV test if they engaged in risky behaviors, such as substance use during sex" or if they attended an HIV prevention workshop, Brown said.
Getting young people into the habit of routine testing could affect their behavior going into adulthood, the researchers suggested. Such widespread testing of younger adolescents could have a "dramatic effect" on HIV infection rates, since one-quarter of Americans with HIV are unaware they are infected and could transmit the virus to others, they said. Testing could be offered not only in doctors' offices, but in non-traditional settings like schools and community centers as well.
The study, "HIV Testing Among At-Risk Adolescents and Young Adults: A Prospective Analysis of a Community Sample," was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2007;41(6):586-593).