Few adolescents and young adults are being tested for HIV, and rates haven’t risen over the years, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the trends are concerning.
“Without HIV testing and diagnosis, adolescents and young adults cannot take advantage of HIV care and treatment that can improve their health and reduce the risk of transmission to others,” they said in the study “HIV Testing Among U.S. High School Students and Young Adults” (Van Handel M, et al. Pediatrics. Jan. 19, 2016, www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2015-2700).
Roughly 26% of estimated new HIV infections in 2010 affected people ages 13-24 years, according to the study. An estimated 44% of young people with HIV are not diagnosed.
The CDC recommends routine HIV screening for everyone between 13 and 64 years of age. The Academy calls for routine screening to be offered to all adolescents by age 16-18 years or as part of routine testing for all sexually active adolescents depending on the community prevalence. Youths at high risk should be tested annually.
They found that from 2005-’13, an average of 22% of high school students who had ever had sexual intercourse were tested for HIV, a number that did not change significantly over the years. Of those students, 17% were male and 27% were female. White males had the lowest average testing rates at 15%, while black females had the highest at 36%. Roughly 34% of high schoolers who had sex with four or more people said they were tested.
Among young adults from 2011-’13, an average of 33% had ever been tested, according to the study. There were no significant changes during that time for males who averaged 27%, but the percentage of females tested dropped from 42.4% to 39.5%. HIV testing rates declined for both white females and black females.
“These results indicate that recommendations to screen all adolescents and young adults for HIV infection, regardless of risk, have not been widely implemented,” according to the study.
“Multi-pronged testing strategies, including provider education, system-level interventions in clinical settings, adolescent-friendly testing services, and sexual health education will likely be needed to increase testing and reduce the percentage of adolescents and young adults living with HIV infection,” they said.
The authors noted several limitations to the research, including an inability to identify the order between HIV testing and risk behaviors, reliance on self-reporting, exclusion of teens not attending school, and lack of information on the sex of sexual partners and whether respondents were tested for other sexually transmitted infections.