Fewer than one-quarter of sexually active high school students have ever been tested for HIV — a troubling low rate that didn't budge over nine years, according to a new government report released Tuesday. Young adults fared slightly better, although testing rates have declined in black women, a high-risk group.
Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed national health surveys given to high school students from 2005 to 2013 and adults age 18 to 24 from 2011 to 2013.
Nearly half of U.S. high school students reported having had sex, often without using condoms, which can help prevent the spread of HIV, the cause of AIDS. About 15 percent reported having had at least four sex partners.
The scientists found that just 22 percent of high school students reported ever having been tested for HIV — and only one-third who had had at least four sexual partners — rates that remained stable during the study.
The HIV screening rate remained at 27 percent for young adult men and dipped among young women, from 42 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2013. It was much higher for black women but fell from 69 percent to 60 percent during the same period.
The CDC published its findings in the journal Pediatrics.
The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend opt-out HIV testing as a part of routine clinical care for teens and young adults and advise at least yearly screening for high-risk individuals, including those with multiple sex partners, gay or bisexual boys and men and intravenous drug users.
Some teens underestimate their HIV risk and have doctors who are unaware of the recommendations, according to the CDC researchers who conducted the study. The agency says inadequate sex education is another challenge; in a report last month it said fewer than half of U.S. high schools and middle schools provide CDC-recommended sexual health education including HIV-related topics.
Other CDC data show there has been a decline in HIV cases nationwide in recent years. About 50,000 people are diagnosed each year with HIV, and 1 in 4 new infections occurs in those age 13 to 24. Nearly 10,000 13-to-24-year-olds were diagnosed with HIV in 2014, CDC data show. The rate was minimal for 13-year-olds, climbed to almost 9 out of 100,000 for 15-to-19-year-olds and nearly tripled for 20-to-24-year-olds.
CDC health scientist Michelle Van Handel said those spikes in infections underscore the importance of starting testing early.
People 25 to 29 years old have the highest infection rate among age groups — almost 36 per 100,000 people. Rates are higher among some other groups, including black people.
HIV screening can be done with simple blood draws, mouth swabs or urine tests; insurance generally covers FDA-approved lab tests as free preventive care. Routine testing offers the best chance for early detection and treatment, the CDC says.
The Associated Press