Some Patients Might Not Know They Have HIV

Undiagnosed HIV cases may call for increased HIV diagnosis rates in some US states

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Patients with HIV are now able to live longer and healthier lives than ever before — but only when their HIV status is known and treated.

A new study found that many patients with HIV — particularly in certain areas — might be living without a diagnosis.

"Persons unaware of their human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection contribute nearly one third of ongoing transmission in the United States," explained the authors of this new study, led by H. Irene Hall, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

Dr. Hall and colleagues explained that not only does knowing their HIV status help patients make behavioral changes to reduce their risk of spreading the disease, it also allows patients to begin treatment earlier. Treatment can further reduce the risk of spreading HIV. It can also allow patients to live longer and with better quality of life.

But why might some people be reluctant to get tested? Daniel Berarducci, MA, CPC, a professional counselor with expertise in assisting those with diseases like HIV and AIDS, based in Las Vegas, provided some insight.

"Probably one of the biggest factors that individuals decide not to get tested is 'social stigma,'" Berarducci told dailyRx News. "Due to the current incurable nature of HIV and AIDS, many individuals may refrain from getting tested due to stigma of testing sites, having to communicate that they are there for an HIV or STD test, while also waiting for the results at the facility."

HIV is a chronic condition that damages the immune system and can eventually lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

To examine HIV diagnosis rates in the US, Dr. Hall and team looked at data from the National HIV Surveillance System for the years 2008 to 2012. This included HIV data from 42 different areas across the US and was used to provide estimations for diagnosis rates in various states.

After analyzing the data, Dr. Hall and team found large differences in HIV rates between states. Iowa had the lowest estimated HIV rate, with 110 people living with HIV — diagnosed or undiagnosed — per 100,000 people. The highest rate was seen in Washington DC, with 3,936 HIV cases per 100,000 people.

Dr. Hall and team also found differences in estimated diagnosis rates between states. It was estimated that 77 percent of people with HIV had been diagnosed by the end of 2012 in Louisiana — the lowest rate seen.

The highest diagnosis rates were seen in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii and New York, where it was estimated that 90 percent or more of HIV patients had been diagnosed. Dr. Hall and colleagues noted that these states met national HIV diagnosis rate goals.

While these rates of HIV diagnosis are high overall, Dr. Hall and team stressed that further efforts are needed to bring every state to the 90 percent or higher goal. Diagnosis is the first step in reaching treatment goals — to have 90 percent or more of HIV patients receiving treatment, these researchers noted.

The CDC recommends that people at high risk of HIV infection — including those who inject drugs — be tested at least once a year for HIV, and that everyone be tested at least once.

"One of the most important aspects of assisting a person and reducing the nature of continued HIV infection in a community is detection (or early detection)," Berarducci said. "Detection of HIV can only assist the individual in being able to improve their heath functioning, along with assisting the person in understanding the nature of behavioral changes that they will need to make in order to assist their physical health concerns."

This study was published online June 25 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Hall and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 24, 2015
Last Updated:
July 1, 2015