CHICAGO – Fewer than 1 in 4 high school students who’ve had sex have ever been tested for HIV, a troubling low rate that didn’t budge over eight years, government researchers say. Young adults fared slightly better, although testing rates have declined in black women, a high-risk group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an influential preventive health panel recommend routine HIV testing at least once for teens and adults. They also advise at least yearly screening for high-risk patients including those with multiple sex partners, gay or bisexual boys and men and injection drug users. The American Academy of Pediatrics has similar advice targeting teens only.
Nearly half of U.S. high school students have had sex, often without using condoms, which can help prevent the spread of HIV, which causes AIDS. About 15 percent report having had at least four sex partners.
Some teens underestimate their HIV risk and have doctors who are unaware of the recommendations, according to the CDC researchers who did the study. The health agency said inadequate sex education is another challenge; in a report last month, it said fewer than half of U.S. high schools and middle schools teach CDC-recommended sexual health education including HIV-related topics.
Other CDC data show there’s been an overall decline in HIV cases nationwide in recent years.
About 50,000 people are diagnosed each year with HIV and 1 in 4 new infections occur in those aged 13 to 24. The new study was published online Tuesday in Pediatrics.
Led by CDC health scientist Michelle Van Handel, the researchers analyzed 2005 to ’13 national health surveys involving high school students, and 2011 to ’13 surveys involving adults aged 18 to 24.
Overall, 22 percent of high school students reported ever having been tested for HIV – and only one-third who’d had at least four sexual partners – rates that remained stable during the study.
The rate remained at an average 27 percent for young adult men but dipped among young women from 42 percent to 40 percent. It was much higher for black women but fell from 69 percent to 60 percent.
Nearly 10,000 13- to 24-year-olds were diagnosed with HIV in 2014, CDC data show. The rate was minimal for 13-year-olds, climbed to almost 9 out of 100,000 for 15- to 19-year-olds and nearly tripled for 20- to 24-year olds. Van Handel said those spikes in infections underscore the importance of starting testing early.
Adults aged 25 to 29 have the highest infection rate among age groups – almost 36 per 100,000. Rates are higher among some other groups, including blacks.
HIV screening can be done with simple blood draws, mouth swabs or urine tests; insurance generally covers FDA-approved lab tests as free preventive care. Routine testing offers the best chance for early detection and treatment, the CDC said.