By Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, February 11, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Researchers say that very few male teenagers at risk of HIV infection are screened for the virus that causes AIDS in the United States.
And this contributes to the growing epidemic of undiagnosed HIV in the nation.
According to the study authors, about 15% of HIV infections in the United States are not diagnosed, but the undiagnosed rate is more than 3.5 times higher (51%) among youth ages 13 to 24.
"Doctors, particularly pediatricians, should have more frank and open conversations with their male adolescent patients," said study co-author Brian Mustanski. He is director of the Institute of the Northwestern University School of Medicine for the health and well-being of sexual and gender minorities.
"If parents ask their child's provider to talk about sexual health and testing, this may be enough to initiate that key dialogue in the exam room, which leads to an HIV test," Mustanski said in a University press release.
These conversations should include a detailed sexual history and a discussion about sexual orientation, "ideally a private conversation with no parents present," he added.
For the study, the researchers asked almost 700 gay, bisexual and questionable male adolescents, ages 13 to 18, if they had ever been tested for HIV. The researchers also asked about their sexual behaviors and condom use, any HIV education in schools and the family, discussions about sexual health with doctors, knowledge about HIV and attitudes about prevention and risk.
In general, less than one in four had been tested for HIV. According to the report, only one third of people who had anal sex without a condom, which carries a high risk of HIV transmission, said they had been tested.
The barriers to HIV testing among this group of high-risk adolescents include not knowing that they can give their legal consent for an HIV test, without knowing where to get tested and fear of being expelled, the study authors said.
Factors that increase the likelihood of being tested include talking with parents about sex and HIV prevention, knowing basic facts about HIV, feeling the test is important, and feeling empowered to do so.
The study was published online on February 11 in the journal. Pediatrics.