Many young people are not getting timely treatment for their HIV infections, and that is putting their long-term health at risk and threatening the health of their partners, a new study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center found.
Evidence suggests early treatment can help manage the disease as a chronic condition and stave off dangerous infections and other damage.
Researchers didn't study why but they believe young people, particularly heterosexual men and minorities, are not seeking the care immediately after they are infected, either because they don't know they are infected or because they are purposefully waiting.
"These are decidedly disappointing findings that underscore the need to develop better ways to diagnose teens sooner and, just as importantly, to get them into care and on therapy sooner," lead investigator Dr. Allison Agwu, an infectious disease specialist and HIV expert at the children's center, said in a statement.
For the study, published Feb. 3 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers looked at records from 1,500 patients aged 12 to 24 who visited one of 13 U.S. clinics between 2002 and 2010. Up to 45 percent sought treatment only after the disease was advanced.
Advanced means a patient has fewer than 350 CD4 cells per millimeter of blood. CD4 cells protect against infection of all kinds. Healthy people have between 500 and 1,500. HIV-infected people have less than 400 and need anti-retroviral therapy. Those with AIDS have less than 200.
Agwu said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HIV testing as part of annual physicals and clinicians need to adhere to that schedule no matter the patient.
"We have to become more creative in linking those already diagnosed with services so they are not deteriorating out there and infecting others," Agwu said.