A health practitioner holds an OraQuick oral swab, a quick-result HIV screening test that can yield results in about 20 minutes, at Heartland CARES in Paducah in 2012. A Kentucky Health Issues Poll indicated only about three in 10 Kentuckians ages 18-64 reported discussing HIV testing with a medical provider.
A new poll suggests Kentucky health-care providers might be losing valuable opportunities to discuss routine HIV screening with their patients, while most people report taking part in the viral testing.
The Kentucky Health Issues Poll, funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, found that 32 percent of Kentucky adults ages 18-64 report that their medical provider has discussed HIV testing with them, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for routine HIV screening.
“It made headlines earlier this month when a little girl — the second person in history — was cured of HIV,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president/CEO of the foundation, in a news release. “As exciting as this development was, for most people, HIV remains a lifelong condition that must be managed through medication to keep it from progressing to AIDS. The CDC’s recommendations are meant to improve the overall population health by detecting HIV so treatment can begin.
“It appears that Kentucky providers are either not adhering to the routine screening recommendations or not communicating this message clearly to patients.”
The CDC recommends all people ages 13-64 receive a routine HIV screening at the behest of their health-care provider, while people at high risk of HIV transmission should be tested annually. High-risk people include injection-drug users, people with multiple sex partners since last HIV test, and people with a sex partner likely HIV positive.
The KHIP highlighted 60 percent of polled Kentuckians reported having an HIV test, while 41 percent of black respondents reported discussing HIV testing with a medical provider in comparison to only 30 percent of white adults.
Furthermore, less than 23 percent of adults ages 46 to 64 report discussing HIV testing with a medical provider while 42 percent of the 18 to 29 age group acknowledged the conversation.
Andrew Halford, interim executive director of Heartland CARES, said the polling data mirrors what the nonprofit HIV/AIDS care and prevention agency has noticed in the McCracken County area.
Citing results of the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the state, McCracken County high schools — private, city and county — reported about 48 percent (1,388) of students engaged in sexual intercourse, although only 41 percent used a condom. About 13 percent (186) reported having sex with four or more people.
“If you’ve had unprotected sex with just 1 person that’s just 1, but if you’ve had say 12 partners and they go out, then it comes out to about 4,095 potential partners,” Halford said. “We do encourage young people who are engaging in any high-risk behaviors to be tested at least once a year, and everyone that’s been sexually active should be tested at least once.”
The CDC reports about one in five people are HIV positive but do not know they are infected, making routine screening a major weapon in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Heartland CARES strives to take that message into the community and provide screening services wherever the agency will be received. The organization provided consultation and screenings, most recently in December at Washington Street Baptist Church, and medical staff provide educational resources during school health classes.
Referencing the KHIP, Halford said the 6 out of 10 people reporting receiving the HIV test is positive, but more could be done. Especially in the case of young adults, HIV screening and awareness could be increased.
“College-aged students are now less aware about HIV,” Halford said. “(Students) see the success of treatments and they think it’s never going to happen to them and if it does, there’s treatment available.
“Treatments are expensive, but the longevity is normal and it’s no longer the death sentence that it was in the 1980s. It’s important for young people to understand that there are certain results to sex, as there are when we do anything in excess. When we overeat we’re doing that to ourselves, but now, if you’re having unprotected sex, you’re exposing your partners and yourself to that potential.”
Heartland CARES offers OraQuick, oral swab HIV testing that can yield results in about 20 minutes. Should a test return positive results, the organization can offer additional testing and consultation services.
The KHIP was conducted between September and October of 2012, by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, and was a random sample of 1,680 adults across the state. The poll has a margin of error of ±2.5 percent.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.