Comprehensive efforts to test the partners of those newly diagnosed with the AIDS virus could uncover thousands of infections and help contain the spread of the disease, according to a new study released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one quarter of the estimated 950,000 Americans living with HIV do not know they are infected. Diagnosing and treating this group of people before they spread the virus has become a cornerstone of the U.S. government's AIDS strategy. A recent analysis of public health data from North Carolina found that more than 20% of those who had sex or shared needles with people diagnosed with HIV in 2001 learned they had the virus when voluntarily tested. In comparison, less than 1% of HIV tests at public health facilities in the state in 2001 were positive.
Sam Dooley, associate director for science in the CDC's division of HIV/AIDS prevention and one of the study's authors, praised North Carolina for investing resources and preparing the public for targeted HIV partner testing and counseling. "If it were done to this extent and this degree of success across the board, we would see a significant number of those folks who don't know they're infected learning that they are," Dooley said.
The North Carolina study comes amid signs of a resurgence of HIV in the United States. In the past year, health officials have reported a rise in infections among intravenous-drug users as well as syphilis outbreaks among gay and bisexual men. Studies have shown that sexually transmitted diseases increase the likelihood of HIV infection. Up to 70% of gay and bisexual men infected in recent syphilis outbreaks have tested positive for HIV. About 16,000 Americans die each year from AIDS, and another 40,000 become infected with HIV.