Tomorrow is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), a day on which we join with partners from all walks of life to promote HIV testing and early diagnosis of HIV across the United States, and remind every American that HIV testing saves lives.
Today, a person who is promptly diagnosed with HIV, started on therapy and remains adherent to a combination of effective anti-HIV drugs can look forward to a close-to-normal life expectancy – a tremendous advance over the early years of the AIDS epidemic when people were hesitant to be tested because of limited treatment options. Not only does current HIV treatment substantially lower the level of virus in the body and help people with HIV (PLWH) live longer, healthier lives, but it also reduces their chances of transmitting HIV to others. For this reason, our national response to HIV is focused on improving outcomes for PLWH along all steps in the HIV care continuum – from diagnosis to viral suppression – so that those who are infected with the virus can successfully navigate the HIV care continuum and realize the life-extending benefits of HIV care and treatment.
The critical first step along this continuum is HIV testing. Testing identifies infected persons, giving them the knowledge they need to seek medical care that can improve the quality and length of their own lives as well as reduce their risk of transmitting HIV to others. Both CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [PDF 115 KB] recommend that all adolescents and adults be screened at least once for HIV as part of their routine healthcare. CDC further recommends HIV testing at least once a year for people at increased risk of HIV infection, such as gay and bisexual men, people who inject drugs, or people with multiple sex partners.
In light of these recommendations, the good news is that more people are being tested for HIV than ever before. But, more than half of American adults still have not been tested, according to a 2010 CDC analysis.
Even more concerning is the fact that nearly one in six (16%) of the people living with HIV in the U.S. remain unaware of their infection. And nearly one-third of those who are newly diagnosed (32% in 2010, the most recent data available) are diagnosed with AIDS within 12 months of their initial HIV diagnosis, meaning that they’d been infected for years without knowing it! People who have a late diagnosis of HIV infection miss out on opportunities for treatment (prior to their diagnosis) and are far more likely to unknowingly transmit HIV to their partners; sadly, they also have a shortened life expectancy.
In a coordinated effort to address these troubling statistics, programs across the federal government, along with state, local and community partners are working to sharpen the focus on HIV testing, particularly among populations that account for most HIV diagnoses, as called for in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). These efforts are aimed at raising the first bar in the HIV care continuum and supporting the attainment of the NHAS target of increasing the percentage of people living with HIV who know their serostatus from 79% to at least 90%. That benchmark has also been adopted by and is being monitored as one of the Leading Health Indicators for Healthy People 2020.
If you’ve never been tested for HIV or if you belong to a group at increased risk for HIV and you haven’t been tested recently, please join us this National HIV Testing Day by getting tested. And help us spread to word that “HIV testing saves lives” by talking to your friends and family members who haven’t been tested. You can find locations near you that offer HIV testing using the AIDS.gov HIV Prevention and Care Services Locator. Let’s all work together to make the vision of an “AIDS-free generation” a reality in our lifetime.