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HIV testing hits record high, but CDC says more is needed

About half of all U.S. adults have never been screened for the virus, and 200,000 don't know they have it.

By Carolyne Krupa — Posted Dec. 21, 2010

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A record 82.9 million American adults were tested for HIV in 2009, 11.4 million more than in 2006, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended that HIV screening become a routine part of medical care for adolescents and adults.

Even so, 55% of adults, including 28.3% who are considered at high risk for contracting the virus, have never been tested for HIV, according to CDC statistics released for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

"We need to do more to ensure that all Americans have access to voluntary, routine and early HIV testing in order to save lives and reduce the spread of this terrible disease," CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said during a teleconference.

The American College of Physicians also is asking physicians to encourage all patients older than 13 to be tested, regardless of their risk factors.

"Screening can be offered at the time of a routine exam," said Donna Sweet, MD, a member of the ACP's clinical guidelines committee and an internal medicine professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita. "Early diagnosis is essential to help HIV-infected individuals live longer lives by receiving lifesaving treatment and care."

An estimated 1.1 million Americans live with HIV, including 200,000 who don't know they're infected. About 56,000 people in the U.S. are infected with the virus annually, equal to a new infection every 9½ minutes, the CDC said.

Thirty-two percent of people infected with HIV progress to AIDS within 12 months of being diagnosed.

The faster new cases are identified, the earlier physicians can discuss treatment options and help prevent further spread of the virus, said Kevin Fenton, MD, PhD, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

"With more tools and opportunities to fight the spread of HIV than ever before, now is the time to reverse decade-long trends in infections," he said.

Two studies released in the past year provide evidence that antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV patients can also help prevent HIV infection. In July, the White House announced the National HIV/AIDS Strategy with an aim of increasing testing, reducing infection rates and raising to 90% the number of HIV-infected people who know they are carriers.

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