By delaying, they risk further harm to their health
One-third to nearly half of HIV-positive American teens and young adults delay treatment until their infection is advanced, putting them at risk for serious health problems.
These findings, from a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, are troubling as evidence suggests starting HIV treatment early helps keep the virus under control and can prevent the heart, kidney and neurological damage that occurs in patients with poorly controlled HIV infection.
In the study, researchers analyzed medical records of nearly 1,500 HIV-infectees, aged 12 to 24, seen at 13 clinics across the country between 2002 and 2010. Of those, 30 percent to 45 percent sought treatment only after their infection reached an advanced stage. Males and members of minority groups were most likely to present with advanced infections.
Researchers believe some of the young adults didn’t know they were infected with the virus that causes AIDS, which is not surprising since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says one out of every five people with HIV is unaware of his or her status.
“These are disappointing findings that underscore the need to develop better ways to diagnose teens sooner and, just as importantly, to get them into care and on therapy sooner,” says lead investigator Allison Agwu, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and HIV expert at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
The CDC recommends HIV testing at least once for everyone between the ages of 13 to 64. But many people eschew testing due to fear, stigma and ignorance.
Dr. Agwu suggests that pediatricians encourage teens to regard HIV testing as a regular part of their annual physical, just like checking their blood sugar levels, blood pressure and weight.