Seventy percent of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV are not regularly taking medication or seeing a doctor, a new finding that has alarmed federal health officials trying to slow the spread of infection.
About 840,000 HIV-positive people are not receiving treatment that could substantially reduce the chances of spreading the virus and expand their own lifespans.
Out of those not receiving care, 66 percent were aware of their infections, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the findings showed a massive gap in treatment even as more people were becoming aware of their infections.
“We’re not reaching nearly enough people,” Frieden said in a call with reporters.
He added that while HIV is incurable, there are powerful anti-viral medications that can reduce the chance of transmission by 96 percent.
“Good care and treatment are good prevention,” he said.
The percent of people who know they are HIV-positive is now 86 percent, up from 75 percent a decade ago.
That decrease is “one of the signs of success” of the national efforts against the virus, said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who leads the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
Those efforts have been intensifying under the Affordable Care Act, which puts a larger focus on education and prevention, Mermin said.
Still, half of all young people between the ages of 18 and 24 remain unaware of their infections, according to the CDC.
Mermin said he hopes that HIV prevention can become commonplace among healthcare providers, with a test “as simple to access as a cholesterol check.”
“There’s untapped potential to drive down the epidemic with increased testing and treatment,” Mermin said. “We would finally see the annual number of new infections drop below the 50,000 we’ve seen for years.”