With HIV and unaware of it: CDC report

Over the years diagnosis with HIV/AIDS has ceased to become a death sentence. However a new Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) report says only one in four Americans with AIDS has the virus under control with adequate medication. Figures also show that about 16,000 people die from the disease annually, and the number of new infections each year in the U.S. has held steady at about 50,000 in recent years.

“The big picture is we could do a lot better than we're doing today… We have substantial work ahead to fully realize the potential benefit of treatment in the US,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC's director. The report, “Vital Signs”, adds that of the 1.2 million Americans who have HIV, 20 percent don't know they're infected. That's 240,000 people. People can have the infection for years without developing symptoms. Additionally only about 40 percent of people with HIV are getting HIV-fighting medications regularly. Worse, only 28 percent have gotten the virus to low levels in their blood. That translates to roughly 850,000 Americans who don't have the virus controlled, Frieden said. Vital Signs is a CDC report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Success rates were lowest in blacks and women, he said. “The fact that nearly three quarters of Americans living with HIV still have the virus circulating in their bodies, damaging their brains and immune systems and putting their sexual partner at risk is something we think we can do a lot about,” Frieden told Reuters.

Some dropped routine care because of money or other reasons. For a small percentage of cases, the treatment may not have worked.

The report appeared Tuesday on the CDC's website. It is based on surveys and surveillance reports from 2010 and a study that focused on medical care for people with HIV.

“It's not good enough to get them tested,” said Dr. Diane Havlir, chief of the HIV/AIDS program at San Francisco General Hospital. Health officials elsewhere in the U.S. are trying unique approaches to get more people diagnosed. On Tuesday, the CDC also announced a $2.4 million new campaign that encourages HIV testing among black gay and bisexual men, who account for nearly a quarter of all new HIV infections in the United States.

“By improving testing, linkage to care and treatment services, we can help people living with HIV feel better and live longer, and can reduce the spread of HIV dramatically,” Frieden noted. “This is not just an individual responsibility, but a responsibility for families, partners, communities and healthcare providers.”

During the press conference, Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, also outlined a new campaign that targets black gay and bisexual men called “Testing Makes US Stronger.” The new national awareness campaign will “strive to raise awareness, improve access, and increase the number of black gay and bisexual men who are aware of their HIV status — the first step to care, treatment and prevention services,” according to a CDC press release.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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