June 25, 2010
Routine HIV testing is central to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the United States, someone becomes infected with HIV every nine and a half minutes. More than 20 percent of the estimated 1.1 million Americans living with HIV infection do not know they are infected.
On National HIV Testing Day, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, urges everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years to be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime in keeping with the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People at high risk for HIV infection -- including substance abusers and their sexual partners, gay and bisexual men, female partners of bisexual men, and individuals with multiple sex partners -- should get tested at least once a year.
Knowing one's HIV status is vitally important to the individual and for protecting the broader public health. Testing positive for HIV infection is the critical first step linking a person to counseling, medical care and treatment, which help improve quality of health and stave off HIV-related complications and co-infections. People who know they are infected with HIV also are more likely to reduce behaviors that could transmit the virus to others, which benefits the larger community.
Additionally, a growing body of evidence suggests that people infected with HIV who consistently take antiretroviral therapy to control the virus not only protect their health but may be less infectious to others -- a theory NIAID is currently examining through clinical research.
Later this year, in collaboration with CDC and local health departments, NIAID will launch a feasibility study in several U.S. cities, designed to determine whether expanded HIV testing along with better linkages to medical care and treatment can show value as part of a broader campaign to reduce HIV incidence.
Although expanded HIV testing initiatives and prevention efforts appear to be having some positive impact, far too many people still are getting infected with HIV. Nearly three decades into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, more than 56,000 new HIV infections occur each year, an unacceptably high rate that has remained relatively stable since the late 1990s.
HIV infection may not grab the headlines as it did during the darkest days in the 1980s, but it is still a serious, incurable medical issue that can lead to AIDS -- a disease that claimed nearly 18,000 American lives in 2007. Too many people are diagnosed with HIV late in the course of infection, missing the window of opportunity when antiretroviral therapy can provide the best health outcomes.
Sadly, the stigma and fear associated with HIV testing are still very real concerns for many. On this National HIV Testing Day, we all must do our part to eliminate these obstacles and emphasize the important, lifesaving value of getting tested. To find an HIV testing site near you or for more information about HIV testing, visit AIDSinfo and AIDS.gov.
Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.