Of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, adults 24 years old and younger are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with the disease or receive treatment, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Treatment. Researches found only one in five people in this demographic is currently receiving treatment for HIV. That is about half the rate of all adults with HIV.
A person infected with HIV at the age of 20 who does not take medication to suppress the virus has an average lifespan of 32, according the study. In stark contrast, the projected average lifespan of someone infected with HIV at age 20 who takes current retroviral drugs is 75 years, just four years shy of the average American lifespan.
The lower rates of diagnosis and treatment among young people "might reflect shorter duration of infection and less time for diagnosis," the study's authors wrote. However, they added, the disparity between younger adults and all age groups with HIV "might reflect differences in access to and use of health care and treatment."
The study's findings are bleak across all age groups for HIV treatment. Although an estimated 86 percent of those with the disease have been diagnosed, just 40 percent all infected Americans are being treated, 37 percent were taking retroviral medication, and fewer than one-third have suppressed the virus. HIV can progress to AIDS if untreated.
But the numbers are most stark for young adults. Although the smallest subset of all people with HIV are those between 18 and 24 years old, the report found only 22% of people in this group are currently engaged in HIV care and just 13% have suppressed the virus. Less than half of those estimated to be infected in that age bracket have been diagnosed.
Adults between 45 and 54 are the largest subset of those with HIV, making up slightly more than one-third of all cases; they have slightly above average rates for diagnosis, treatment, and viral suppression.
"To prevent deterioration of immune function, prolong life, and decrease transmission risk," the report's authors wrote, "all persons diagnosed with HIV should receive medical care and be offered [anti-retroviral therapy] as soon as possible after diagnosis with HIV infection."
The report's authors also recommended, "All adolescents and adults should be tested for HIV infection at least once."