Nearly 20,000 unsuspecting Americans discovered they were infected with HIV because of a new aggressive testing program offered by health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.
CDC officials also estimate 20 percent of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States did not know they were infected, so expanding testing is critical, the report said.
These recent test results are monumental, according to U.S. health officials.
The CDC study shows that after a three-year, $111 million program to expand HIV testing in 25 of the U.S. areas most affected by HIV has provided nearly 2.8 million HIV tests and diagnosed 18,432 individuals who were previously unaware of their HIV infection.
The results of the program were published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The CDC study found that homosexual individuals of all races and ethnicities were severely affected, especially blacks: 28 percent were infected by HIV, compared to 18 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of whites.
“Ensuring that all Americans know their HIV status is critical to reducing new infections and putting an end to the epidemic,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
"These results demonstrate that the nation is making steady progress toward that vision. But more than half of U.S. adults aged 18-64 still have never been tested for HIV, and our work is far from over.”
The CDC estimates that the majority of new sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by individuals who are unaware of their infection. Once people learn they are HIV-infected, most take steps to protect their partners, studies have shown.
CDC officials say persons with HIV must enter an HIV medical treatment program to reduce their risk for transmission.
Health officials visited multiple medical facilities to perform the HIV tests.
Hospital emergency rooms were particularly important venues for the CDC HIV testing study, accounting for 30 percent of all tests and 32 percent of all previously undiagnosed infections.
STD clinics also accounted for a significant number of new diagnoses. Community-based organizations, which accounted for most of the HIV tests provided outside of health care facilities, contributed 11 percent of new HIV diagnoses.
"These test results remind us that high-impact prevention works,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC`s Division of HIV and AIDS Prevention.
“With collaboration and focus on those who are hardest hit by this disease, we are making great strides in the fight against HIV.”
The study’s results reinforce the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States which says “the United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among gay and bisexual men” and lists homosexuals among a few priority populations to focus HIV prevention efforts.
The President’s strategy also sets targets for reducing the number of individuals living with HIV who are unaware of their HIV status.
For more information, log on to www.cdc.gov/hiv or www.actagainstaids.org.