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TUESDAY, Feb. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A troubling new study finds that one-third to nearly half of American teens and young adults with HIV delay treatment until their infection is advanced, putting them at risk for serious health problems.
These findings are especially disturbing as evidence increasingly suggests that starting HIV treatment as soon as possible helps keep the virus under control and can prevent the heart, kidney and neurological harm that occurs in patients with poorly controlled HIV infection, the researchers noted.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of nearly 1,500 HIV-infected people, aged 12 to 24, who were seen at 13 clinics across the United States between 2002 and 2010. Of those, 30 percent to 45 percent sought treatment when their infection was at an advanced stage.
Males and members of minority groups were most likely to have advanced HIV infections when they first went to a clinic, according to the study published Feb. 3 in JAMA Pediatrics.
The researchers didn't examine why so many of these patients waited until they had advanced infections before seeking care, but suggested that some did not know they were infected with HIV. Others who were diagnosed earlier likely had a variety of reasons for not getting treatment.
"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 Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said in a Hopkins news release.
HIV testing is recommended at least once for everyone between the ages of 13 to 64, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, many infected people are undiagnosed due to fear, stigma, unwillingness to get tested and health care providers' biases, according to the researchers.
"Clinicians need to get away from their own preconceived notions about who gets infected, stop risk-profiling patients and test across the board," Agwu said.
She added that pediatricians should encourage teens to regard HIV testing as a normal part of their regular physical, the same as checking their blood sugar levels or weight.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV/AIDS.