HIV Testing Within At-Risk Populations in the United States and the Reasons for Seeking or Avoiding HIV Testing

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Abstract

Objectives:

We determined proportions of high-risk persons tested for HIV, the reasons for testing and not testing, and attitudes and perceptions regarding HIV testing, information that is critical for planning prevention programs.

Methods:

Cross-sectional interview study of persons at high risk for HIV infection (men who have sex with men [MSM]; injection drug users [IDUs]; and heterosexual persons recruited from gay bars, street outreach, and sexually transmitted disease clinics) among six states participating in the HIV Testing Survey (HITS) in 1995 to 1996 (HITS-I) and 1998 to 1999 (HITS-II).

Results:

Overall testing rates were lower in the HITS-I (1226/1599 [77%]) than in the HITS-II (1375/1711 [80%]) (p = .01). Persons <25 years old tested less frequently than those >25 years old (HITS-I: 71 % vs. 78%, respectively, p = .007; HITS-II: 63% vs. 85%, respectively, p < .001). The main reasons for testing and not testing were the same in both surveys, but the proportions of reasons for not testing differed (e.g., “unlikely exposed to HIV” [HITS-I (17%) vs. HITS-II (30%), p < .0001], “afraid of finding out HIV-positive” [HITS-I (27%) vs. HITS-II (18%), p < .0001]). Attitudes regarding HIV testing differed among tested and untested respondents, especially among MSM.

Conclusions:

HIV testing rates were higher in the HITS-II, but testing rates decreased among the youngest respondents. Denial of HIV risk factors and fear of being HIV-positive were the principal reasons for not being tested. Availability of new HIV therapies may have contributed to decreased fear of finding out that one is HIV infected as a reason to avoid testing. The increased proportion of persons at risk who did not test because they believed they were unlikely to have been exposed highlights the need for prevention efforts to address risk perceptions.

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