As people across the planet commemorated World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced encouraging news about the disease, but noted there is still much to be done before the often deadly illness can be considered under control. Officials at the CDC say this is a time for optimism and action.
In a telephone news conference CDC Director Thomas Frieden said, “In 2006, CDC issued new recommendations, and today’s data shows that following those recommendations there was a significant increase in the number of Americans who were tested for the first time for HIV. In fact, between 2006 and 2009 more than 11 million additional Americans were tested for the first time for HIV. This increased from 40 to 45 percent the overall number of adults in this country who have ever been tested. And because more people were tested, fewer people were diagnosed late with HIV.
“The portion of patients diagnosed late decreased from 37 percent to 32 percent. Overall, a relative increase of about 10 or 15 percent in testing, and a relative decrease also by 10 percent or 15 percent in a number of people diagnosed late. This is significant progress in increasing testing and linkage to care,” he said.
The really encouraging news, Frieden said, is that the numbers show that progress is possible and is being made as more people are being tested. He added that the data also shows how much more progress is needed.
The CDC recommends routine testing of all patients, including those not in high-risk categories such as men who have sex with other men, people who use illegal intravenous drugs and people who trade sex for drugs. “In-patient units need to routinely offer HIV testing. When that occurs patients are well served. They’re diagnosed at an earlier stage of their infection. They can prevent serious illness. And they can avoid spreading HIV to their partners in their communities. As one person who found out too late that they are HIV positive told me, ‘it’s hard to find out you’re HIV positive,’ but it’s much harder to find out you’re HIV positive and you already have AIDS,” Frieden said.
The CDC director said that virtually all AIDS cases are preventable either by preventing infections or progression from HIV infection to clinical illness with AIDS. However, he noted, an estimated 37,000 Americans were diagnosed with AIDS in the most recent year for which data are available, 2008.
He said there are still 200,000 or more Americans who have HIV and don’t know it. “Overall, 55 percent of adults—and even more concerning—28 percent of high-risk adults have never been tested, and those at higher risk are also not testing frequently enough,” Frieden said.
“HIV is still a serious problem in this country. More than a million Americans are infected. Many become ill. Many die preventable deaths, and the costs are more than $350,000 per person in medical costs alone. Testing and linking people who are HIV positive to care are key to decreasing the epidemic,” he said.