CDC: One in Five People Infected With HIV Are Unaware of Infection

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A new and disturbing report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that 56,300 Americans become infected with HIV every year and that one in five people living with the lethal virus are unaware of their infection.  

According to a newly released report by the CDC, 21 percent of people infected with HIV are unaware of their illness. While the annual number of new infections has remained stable in recent years, that number is at a very high level with an estimated 56,300 American becoming infected every year.

“Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are strongly affected and represent the majority of persons who have died,” the report says.

This group represents 53 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S., as well as nearly half (48%) of all people living with HIV. Even though sexually active homosexual men account for just four percent of the population, the rate of HIV diagnoses among this group in the U.S. is 44 times that of other men and more than 40 times that of women. White men account for the largest number of these new infections, followed closely by black men and Hispanics.

The second largest infection group are heterosexuals and injection drug users. Heterosexuals account for 31 percent of new HIV infections and 28 percent of people currently living with HIV in the U.S., with the majority of these cases being women. Injection drug users account for 12 percent of new infections and 19 percent of those living with HIV.

The CDC has identified several reasons why so many of infected Americans are unaware of their condition.

“Low awareness of HIV status among young MSM likely reflects several factors: they may have been infected more recently, may underestimate their personal risk, may have had fewer opportunities to get tested, or may believe that HIV treatments minimize the threat of HIV,” the report says.

Racism, poverty, and lack of access to health care may also be contributing to the lack of awareness. A recent CDC study found a strong link between socioeconomic status and HIV among MSM: prevalence increased as education and income decreased, and awareness of HIV status was higher among MSM with greater education and income.

Complacency about HIV, particularly among the young, has also been identified as a cause for the continuing high numbers of cases. “Since young MSM did not experience the severity of the early HIV epidemic, some may falsely believe that HIV is no longer a serious health threat because of treatment advances and decreased mortality,” the report states.

Stigma and homophobia may also have a profound impact on the lives of MSM, especially their mental and sexual health.

“Internalized homophobia may impact men’s ability to make healthy choices, including decisions around sex and substance use,” the report states. “Stigma and homophobia may limit the willingness of MSM to access HIV prevention and care, isolate them from family and community support, and create cultural barriers that inhibit integration into social networks.”

An estimated 18,000 people die each year because of HIV, and more than half a million (576,000) have died since the virus first appeared in 1977.

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