Researchers say HIV testing in US remains low

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WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) HIV testing rates have remained low in the United States this decade, with only about one-fifth of people at high risk for infection getting a test in any given year, according to a study published.

The study published yesterday also found that many more people at high risk of HIV infection -- men who have sex with men, injection drug users and others -- say they plan to get tested than actually do get tested.

''We know that there are about 1.1 million Americans infected with HIV. And we know that about 25 per cent of them don't know that they're infected,'' Brian Pence, an epidemiologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and one of the researchers, said in a telephone interview.

Those people who are unaware they are infected may be causing more than half of new US human immunodeficiency virus infections, making an expansion of testing a key step toward curbing the spread of the virus that causes AIDS, Pence added.

The researchers examined responses from about 147,000 people nationwide aged 18 to 64 in US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health surveys from 2000 through 2005.

''Rates of past-year HIV testing remained constant and low throughout the study period,'' the researchers wrote in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

They found that 10 per cent of all respondents reported they had been tested in the past year, and that a total of 38 per cent reported they had ever been tested.

''Large differences in testing rates according to race and sex remained relatively constant, with minority females reporting the highest rates of testing and white males reporting the lowest rates,'' the researchers added.

Among people classified as at high risk of infection, 22 percent got tested in the prior year.

And only about half of those got the tests on their own initiative. The other half underwent tests as part of medical checkups, health insurance applications, entering the military or some other reason, the researchers said.

Nineteen percent of those classified as at medium risk of infection got tested in any given year.

The researchers looked at the percentage of people in various groups who said they intended to get tested in the coming year and compared that to the percentage who actually got tested in the previous year.

While 27 percent of people at highest risk for infection said they planned to have an HIV test in the coming year, only 11 percent had actually sought out a test in the prior year.

''The (AIDS prevention) information is getting out there.

High-risk groups are appropriately assessing their risk and are interested in testing. And yet there's this gap between intention and action,'' Pence said.

The researchers said that nearly half of HIV tests were given as part of medical checkups or prenatal care, suggesting that policy initiatives to integrate testing into routine medical care have had some success.

REUTERS ARB RK0920

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