November 29th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

HIV out of control in most U.S. patients

Three out of four people with HIV in the United States do not have their infection under control, even though anti-HIV drugs have been available for more than 15 years, according to a study released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s a very poor rate. We have to do much better than that,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Keeping HIV under control is crucial not only for the 1.2 million people in the United States who carry the infection, but also for their sexual partners. Suppressing the virus decreases the chances it will be transmitted to a sexual partner by more than 95%, Fauci said.

“Treatment is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of HIV infection."

There are many reasons why only 28% of people with HIV have the virus under control. According to the CDC, 20% of people with HIV don’t even know they have it, and among those who’ve been diagnosed, only half are receiving regular care for their disease.

Many can’t afford treatment for their HIV, which totals about $367,000 over a lifetime, according to the CDC.

Since testing is the first step in receiving the proper care, the CDC is targeting specific high-risk groups. The agency has a new program called “Testing Makes Us Stronger” that encourages gay and bisexual black men to get tested for the virus.

“Black gay and bisexual men across the country are already doing many of the right things to protect themselves - but more need to make HIV testing a regular part of their lives,” Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, said in a press release.

The website HIVtest.org helps people find testing - including free testing - where they live.

There were high hopes that women could use a gel to destroy the HIV virus, or at least reduce its chances of causing infections. But this week the National Institutes of Health announced that the gel, which contains the drug tenofovir, worked no better than a placebo, so this particular arm of  the study was shut down.  

The gel is supposed to be applied to the vagina or rectum before sex, and Fauci said he suspects many of the women weren’t using it.

“The fact that we didn’t see protection was a disappointment,” he added. 

Researchers are still studying if tenofovir in pill form combined with another HIV drug, emtricitabine, can safely and effectively prevent HIV transmission in women.

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