A recent study has found that annual HIV infection rates are higher than originally anticipated.
A report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed HIV incidence - the number of new infections that occur per year - to be 40 percent higher than first estimated for the year 2006.
With the help of improved statistical analysis, the same study also found that infection rates have been higher than reported over the past 10 years.
This puts new HIV infections at 56,300, when the number previously sat at a considerably lower 40,000.
Despite the large differential, many in the health sector did not find the results unexpected.
"[The revision] doesn't really change the CDC's recommendations to encourage screening for everyone," explained Evelyn Wiener, director of Student Health Services.
A 2006 recommendation encouraged HIV screening to be part of regular medical care for individuals 13 to 64, and many emergency health services offer optional HIV tests to patients.
The question is whether universal screening should be the norm, Wiener added.
Nurit Shein, executive director of the Mazzoni Center, which offers free HIV testing in Philadelphia, emphasized that inaccuracies in HIV incidence data extend back for many years and recent figures only reflect more sophisticated technologies that enable more accurate statistics.
"However, we believe that we are seeing increases in infection rates especially for young people, and particularly among young African American males" in Philadelphia, Shein wrote in an e-mail.
Pennsylvania legally requires HIV testing to be accompanied by pre- and post-counseling. Even with the Rapid HIV Test, a session can last an hour, Wiener said.
When tests carried out in clinics yield negative results, the patient goes home after appropriate counseling. If the result is positive, additional testing is needed to eliminate the possibility of a false negative.
In low-risk populations, such as college students, this testing method lends itself to a higher number of false positives, said Wiener, making precautions about testing necessary.
Although the Office of Health Education has stopped offering HIV tests as of last semester, Student Health Services plans to offer Rapid HIV Tests sometime this fall.
Appointments will be available for this free and confidential service during regular business hours.
Until then, SHS will continue to offer tests based on blood samples billed to students' insurance providers.
Although prevalence and incidence for HIV are up for the general population, "it does not have the prognosis that it did 20 years ago," Wiener added.
At the same time, this may make select groups less likely to protect themselves against high-risk behaviors, an effect researchers are still studying, she said.
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