According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38,700 people were newly infected with HIV in 2016. Of those, nearly four in 10 caught the virus from someone entirely unaware they were HIV positive, a study released on Monday reveals.
The stats in the report, based on 2016 figures, show that 15 percent of the approximately 1.1 million people living in the US with HIV are unaware they carry the virus and are responsible for 38 percent of all new infections. A further 23 percent are aware but aren't receiving the treatment they need to lead a healthy life or prevent transmission, and they are responsible for an additional 43 percent of new infections. The remaining 20 percent of infections were from the 11 percent of HIV-positive people who are receiving care but have not reached a state of viral suppression.
This suggests that as many as 38 percent of people living with HIV are not receiving the anti-retroviral drugs they need to stay healthy and prevent further transmission, and more are not receiving treatment on a regular enough basis for it to be fully effective.
Studies have shown that six months of appropriate treatment can cause viral suppression, which essentially means an individual's viral load is so low it cannot be passed to another. Meanwhile, the person who is taking the drug can expect to reach a healthy lifespan. The problem is that antiretroviral therapy (ART) can be expensive, costing hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars for those with no health insurance. For some, sticking to a treatment plan may simply be unfeasible. Stigma, discrimination, and little trust in the medical system are more factors that may prevent people accessing the care they need, Ahnalee Brincks, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University, told CNN.
On a more positive note, the report does also show that there was a total of zero transmission from the 500,000 or so people in the US who are HIV positive, take medication, and are virally suppressed.
"The key to controlling is helping those with HIV to control the virus," Jonathan Mermin, the Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP), told the Associated Press.
"Time spent working closely with patients who are having trouble paying for, picking up or taking their daily medications is time well spent."
"Going forward, increasing the percentage of persons with HIV infection who have achieved viral suppression and do not transmit HIV will be critical for ending the HIV epidemic in the United States," the study authors conclude.