* Nine percent of IV drug users in study infected
* HIV testing also down; progress may be short-lived
* Many of those infected don't know they have HIV
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, March 1 HIV infections among
intravenous drug users in the United States have fallen by half
in the past decade, but HIV testing is also down and risky
behaviors such as needle-sharing persist, U.S. health experts
said on Thursday.
A study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) and Prevention based on a 2009 survey of 10,000
people from 20 urban areas found that 9 percent of IV drug users
were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, the
virus that causes AIDS.
That compares with a rate of 18 percent in the 1990s.
"Despite the fact that we've seen declines in new HIV
infections, a substantial number of IDUs (injection drug users)
in major US cities are HIV-infected and their risk behavior
remains fairly high," said Dr. Cyprian Wejnert, an
epidemiologist at the CDC, whose study appears in the CDC's
weekly report on death and disease.
"We found 9 percent of IDUs were HIV-positive and nearly
half of those were unaware of their infection," Wejnert said in
a telephone interview.
After falling significantly since the peak of the epidemic,
HIV rates in the United States have been leveling out, but
pockets of infection persist, especially in high-risk groups
such as young people and men who have sex with men.
The survey tested individuals for HIV and asked questions
about their risk behaviors and use of HIV prevention services.
It found about a third of intravenous drug users in the
survey said they shared syringes, most said they had unprotected
sex in the past year and more than half said they had more than
one sexual partner.
The study also found that rates of HIV testing in this
at-risk population were falling.
"While CDC recommends that individuals are tested for HIV at
least annually, only 49 percent ... reported being tested in the
last 12 months," Wejnert said. That represents a significant
drop from a survey done in 2005-2006, he said.
Dr. Amy Lansky, deputy director in the Division of HIV/AIDS
Prevention at CDC, said the findings will be used as CDC focuses
on prevention efforts on high-risk populations.
"It's a really important part of understanding the leading
edge of the epidemic," she said.
"What the data from this report shows is we really do need
to continue our efforts to expand HIV testing and improve
testing," she said, adding that the CDC also needs to focus
prevention efforts on reaching more drug users.
Effective prevention efforts include offering condoms and
substance abuse treatment. But the CDC cannot distribute clean
needles because U.S. lawmakers in December reinstated a ban on
the use of federal funds for such programs.
According to the CDC, 1.2 million Americans have HIV, and 1
in 5 U.S. adults with HIV do not know they are infected.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Todd Eastham)