Most People With HIV Are Not Diagnosed And Treated Quickly Enough

A large new study has some disturbing conclusions: most Americans and Canadians infected with HIV are not being diagnosed quickly enough after exposure, raising questions about the effectiveness of potentially livesaving treatments.

The analysis was based on CD4 counts, which measure the number of T-cells (“helper” cells) at the time the patient began the treatment.  These cells are the preferred target for the HIV virus, and they’re often used as a measure for immune system strength.  The study, which examined the medical records of over 45,000 HIV-positive patients over a period of ten years, found that the CD4 count of most patients at the time of first treatment was below the level that scientists recommend as the starting point for medical care.

What does this mean?  Well, it turns out that it’s not just bad for the patient, because delayed treatment increases the risk that the disease will progress, but it also increases the rate of transmission, turning this into a more serious public health dilemma.  The average age at which patients sought care had also risen over the ten-year period, an interesting statistic that suggests that patients may be slightly less likely to seek treatment at a younger age.

In an editorial that accompanied the study, Dr. Cynthia Gay of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote,

“These findings reveal that despite such compelling data, there is much room for improving our ability to link more HIV-infected individuals with effective treatment prior to immunological deterioration.”

This means that we need to do more to promote HIV testing and increase the accessibility of these life-saving medicines.  It’s clear that both because of the threat to the patient’s life and the increased likelihood that the disease will be spread, this is a crucial public health issue that we can’t afford to ignore.

Photo from Flickr.


Juliet D.
.7 years ago

People with HIV can be asymptomatic for a very long time, and early signs that there is a problem with one's immune system might look like a variety of minor complaints. Detection rates will remain low and late until insurance companies encourage testing (hah) or until there is free public screening.

Michele C.
Michele C7 years ago


James R Stewart Jr

If they don't go and get tested, it's not the AMA's fault.

corinne ramsden
corinne ramsden7 years ago

good article,,,

Linda Mills
Linda Mills7 years ago

very sad to know this

Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago

Great article. Unfortunately, there still remains a lot of work to be done on this issue.

Tanya G.
Tanya G7 years ago

Thank you for writing this article.

Walter G.
Walter G7 years ago

Aids related patients are among the most horribly mistreated people. There is both a professional and general public revulsion about AIDS. Educational attempts seem to have failed.

Hugh V.
Hugh V.7 years ago

As one who tested positive at the very beginning of of the epidemic , but didn't develop full blown illness until a few years ago, I thought I'd share some memories and facts about the process. Through the years I've buried 57 good friends.It's been a nightmare. To those who state that the pharmaceutical industry made astronomical profits from AIDS drugs , you are right on.It was mind boggling. For some meds , which they , as always , claimed millions in research expenses , the research had been done on the preparations in question years earler for the possibility of benefitting previous diseases, US Army laboratories. Just one more notable example was AZT , which was ineffective by itself but helps suppress HIV replication when given with other drugs. But , AZT was an old cancer drug that had been shelved as more effective agents were developed. When found to have some use with AIDS , the cost of it at least tripled. It is essential to note that the intense scrutiny of HIV has opened doors to science & medicine we never knew existed. An incredible number of chronic , debillitating , & lethal illnesses will benefit enormously.The point here , is the reality ; that AIDS research is actually research into virology & immunology.Nota bene , that at the beginning , CD-4 cells were thought to be important only in the development of immune systems in children & adolescents. In adults they were considered "junk cells", so their diminishing numbers were ignored

Kelly H.
Kelly H7 years ago

noted, but confued