In a new position paper released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), doctors now recommend teens ages 16 to 18 who live in an area where the prevalence of HIV is greater than 0.1% of the population, should get routine tests.
The new recommendation marks a shift in policy. Previously, doctors recommended that only teens who admitted to being sexually active undergo testing, but because the disease is spreading among young people, they are now asking that teens undergo routine HIV testing during exams and when they are tested for other STDs.
In 2006, there were more than 1.1 million HIV-positive people living in the United States. Of that population, the CDC says 5% were adolescents and young adults, ages 13 to 24 years old. That may seem like a small overall percentage but consider this: Upwards of 70% of new HIV infections are caused by people of all ages who are unaware of their HIV-positive status. Roughly one of every two HIV-infected adolescents don’t know they’re positive.
“I can’t think of a downside [to testing],” says Martinez. “We find that youth who test and become aware of whether they’re affected… become more conscious about engaging in safer sex practices.”
Despite being able to lower transmission rates in teens by continually testing them, many public health officials worry that many pediatricians won’t encourage their teenage patients to get tested. Some doctors may be uneasy to talk to their teen patients about HIV, while others argue that they don’t have time to test their patients.
Along with routinely testing teens, the AAP also recommends HIV testing during all emergency and urgent care clinics where the prevalence of HIV is greater than 0.1% of the population. Because many areas that experience high levels of HIV are in lower income areas where residents often do not have access to health care, testing patients while they receive emergency services may help lessen the spread of the disease in many communities.