New CDC Report Highlighting HIV Among Millennials Gives Good and Bad News
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report on the state of HIV among people under the age of 30 in the United States. Between 2010-2014, the CDC collected data on individuals ages 13-29 to calculate rates of infections of HIV. For the overall group, the number has remained stable. But within particular age demographics some numbers have risen while others have fallen.
Based on an article, which first appeared on Mashable.com, the results of the data tell an interesting narrative for the future of HIV prevention and care. For the age group of 15-19, there was actually a decrease in the rates of infection. Although this is a good sign, there are some concerns, as the numbers seem to be flattening within this age group rather than on a constant, steady decrease.
Craig Wilson, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, spoke in detail about the newest results from the data. Wilson noted that although we're seeing an overall "flattening" in the number of HIV infections in younger demographics — which is certainly better than an increase — the results shouldn't be taken as too encouraging.
"There are good things if you look at it historically, but the bad part is, why aren’t we doing better?" asked Wilson, who was not involved in the CDC report.
The rates of infection for the 25-29 age group unfortunately have continued to rise. Although these are estimations, and not exact numbers, rates increased from around 32 to 35 cases per 100,000 people in the 24- to 25-year range and from around 30 to 34 cases in the 26- to 27-year range between 2010 and 2014.
The most concerning part about this new data is that although 13-29 year olds only make up 23% of the population, they are accounting for 40% of new HIV infections. This report coincides with the damning 2016 report that stated 50% of black men who have sex with men (MSM) would contract the virus over their lifetime, and that 25% of Latino men who have sex with men would do so as well.
A primary reason why overall rates aren't dropping, and are actually increasing in 25- to 29-year-olds, is that millennials are failing to take the first preventative steps, like getting tested.
"Even though the rates may be stable, millennials are less likely to have had an HIV test, even compared to older groups," said Brandon Brown in an email. He is an HIV expert at the University of California Riverside School of Medicine who took no part in the research or the report.
There could be many reasons for this, he noted, like millennials believing they're not at risk, or possibly thinking HIV is now a manageable illness. Many are in agreement that the 90-90-90-50 plan is still the best way to ensure that we decrease the number of new infections while ensuring those who are HIV-positive have an undetectable status.
The 90-90-90-50 plan means that 90% of people will know they are infected, 90% of those people will get on HIV treatment, 90% of those people will become undetectable and all would result in a 50% decrease in the overall new infection rate of HIV.
"If we hit those numbers, we’ll start seeing downtrends, because HIV transmission is taking place from those not on therapy," said Wilson.
The problem remains that stigma has still kept many within that age demographic from getting tested regularly. While HIV testing has been normalized in some sub-populations, it is not the case for much of the majority. HIV is still viewed in many communities as a problem for those who are LGBTQ, despite the high rates of black women getting infected in comparison to white and Latina women.
HIV testing has to become a part of the normal regimen of care - from primary care to OBGYN. The burden of ensuring that HIV testing is happening in all communities cannot solely rest on smaller organizations that work deep within communities that continue efforts to help marginalized populations. It must be mainstreamed, as well.
"Until we normalize HIV testing and remove testing stigma, this will continue to be a problem where many don’t know their status," said Brown.