The Centers for Disease Control released a report titled “Vital Signs: HIV Diagnosis, Care, and Treatment Among Persons Living with HIV — United States, 2011” on Nov. 25. While the data is three years old, the study shows that some progress has been made in the fight to prevent the spread of HIV illnesses and the treatment of patients with the infection.
The study also shares some alarming news about HIV patients ages 18 to 24. Some 46 percent of those patients are not receiving medical care for their illness despite knowing their diagnosis. The number of patients in this age group that have been treated and achieved viral suppression is also extremely low compared to patients in other age ranges.
The CDC estimates that in 2011, there were just over 1.2 million residents of the United States and Puerto Rico with HIV infections. About 86 percent of that number had been diagnosed with the illness. Men made up 77 percent of all the estimated and diagnosed patients.
The most HIV cases are found in the 45 to 54 year age group. African American patients with HIV account for 41 percent of the cases sorted by ethnicity. Just over half of all illnesses, 54 percent, were contracted through male to male sexual contact and an additional 15 percent were contracted through IV drug use.
About 30 percent of HIV patients have received treatment resulting in the best result possible, viral suppression. Of the remaining patients, two thirds are not receiving any treatment at all for their infection. An additional 20 percent have not been diagnosed with the infection. Nearly 722,000 people are in one of those two categories, and are at risk from the virus and its complications.
The human immunodeficiency virus has no cure. There are many treatment options which are designed to reduce the viral load on the patient, preventing opportunistic infections and the eventual appearance of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
The CDC says that viral suppression is most important:
Viral suppression is key for people living with HIV. Viral suppression means having very low levels of HIV in the body, even though the virus is still there. Achieving viral suppression by taking HIV medicines allows people living with HIV to have nearly normal lifespans and greatly reduces their chances of transmitting the virus.
Anti-viral treatments (ART) for HIV do cost the patients some money. A number of programs, including those created by the Ryan White Act, exist to provide low cost or no cost medications.
The study notes that diagnosis with an HIV infection is just the first step. Continued medical treatment and the use of medications must follow. Patients receiving an HIV diagnosis at age 20 and engaged in treatment with anti-virals can expect to live an average of 51 years more, nearly reaching the average life expectancy for the age group as a whole, the authors state. They also advise that early ART can reduce the chances of sexual transmission of HIV by 96 percent.
The study does not identify the reasons that so many with HIV are not receiving medical care or ART. The authors suggest that access to medical care, a need for education about the illness and a patient’s economic circumstances may all play a role in avoiding ART.