World AIDS Day: “Encouraging signs” seen in fight against HIV

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Updated Dec 1, 2017 10:44 AM EST

In what health officials call an “encouraging sign,” a new government report finds HIV is being diagnosed sooner after infection than it was just a few years ago.

According to the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated time it takes someone in the U.S. to get an HIV diagnosis from time of infection is now three years. This is a significant improvement from 2011, when the median time was three years and seven months.

The seven-month improvement is a considerable decrease and suggests that the nation’s approach to HIV prevention efforts is paying off, officials say. 

“These findings are more encouraging signs that the tide continues to turn on our nation’s HIV epidemic,” CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., said in a statement. “HIV is being diagnosed more quickly, the number of people who have the virus under control is up, and annual infections are down. So while we celebrate our progress, we pledge to work together to end this epidemic forever.”

An estimated 85 percent of the 1.1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV in 2014 knew their HIV status, the CDC says. About 40 percent of new cases were transmitted from people who didn’t know they had HIV.

Screening for HIV is considered an important first step to preventing further spread of the virus. Experts recommend that everyone should get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, and people at higher risk for HIV — including sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men — should get tested at least once a year.

Once diagnosed, taking HIV medications as prescribed can allow people with the virus to live a long, healthy life and help protect their partners. The preventative drug regimen known as PrEP can also help people significantly reduce the risk of becoming infected. 

“Prompt diagnosis is prevention,” Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said during a press briefing on Tuesday. “Controlling HIV through treatment is a top national priority.”

Still, despite the progress seen in the report, too few people are getting tested. A multi-city study found that people who said that they did not get screened for HIV in the last year included:

  • 29 percent of gay and bisexual men,
  • 42 percent of people who inject drugs, and
  • 59 percent of heterosexuals at increased risk for HIV. 

The…

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