Gay and bisexual men under the age of 35 are twice as likely to go untested for HIV than older age groups, even as the sexually transmitted disease sees an upsurge among younger gay and bisexual men.
In a new survey of 431 gay and bisexual men by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56 percent said they weren't too concerned or at all concerned with becoming infected with HIV. About 64 percent said they hadn't been tested in the past year or ever before. More than half also said their doctor hadn't recommended getting tested for HIV.
Asked about ways to prevent HIV, 96 percent said condoms are very or somewhat effective for preventing HIV. But about eight in 10 said they have heard only a little or nothing about PrEP or Truvada, a daily pill that can significantly reduce the chances of becoming infected with HIV.
Separate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released on Thursday found that half of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV in the US are receiving care and treatment for their infection and 42 percent have managed to suppress the virus with proper treatment — even though more than three-fourths of diagnosed gay and bisexual men were linked to treatment within three months of their diagnosis. Younger and black men are also less likely to be linked to care and follow through with treatment, according to the CDC data.
"It's unacceptable that treatment, one of our most powerful tools for protecting people's health and preventing new HIV infections, is reaching only a fraction of gay men who need it," said Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, in a statement. "A top prevention priority at CDC is making sure every gay man with HIV knows his status and receives ongoing medical care — otherwise, we will never tackle the HIV epidemic in the country."
A recent CDC report found HIV/AIDS diagnoses rates rose dramatically among teens and young adults, particularly those between the ages of 13 and 24, from 2001 and 2011.
For the newly infected, the disease isn't nearly as deadly as it once was thanks to developments in antiretroviral medications that help suppress HIV, making it both less deadly and more difficult to transmit. But people living with HIV still face a terrible stigma, which can often turn their families and friends against them. A majority of respondents in the Kaiser survey said this stigma, along with complacency and lack of testing, is a major reason it's been so difficult to slow the spread of HIV in the gay community.
Paige Rawl, an Indiana college student who was born with HIV, faced some of the stigma when she was as young as 12. At one point, even her own soccer coach mocked her illness. "My mom confronted my coach," Rawl said in a previous interview. "The coach made a joke to my mom that the team could use my HIV status to our advantage, because the players on the other team would be scared to touch me, and I could score goals."
Given the stigma and the rising risk of HIV among young gay adults, public health officials and advocates, including Rawl, are working to educate people about HIV. As part of broader efforts, Kaiser recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about HIV and people's struggles with the disease.
Danny Harris, who travels across Arkansas to help people living with HIV, has engaged in some of that work, but only after struggling with whether he should come out as HIV-positive.
"After a while, I began to think it through and decided it was better that it be known," Harris said in a previous interview. "I could demonstrate with my own testimony and my own life that HIV doesn’t win unless you give it the victory."
To read more about the experiences of people living with HIV, check out Vox's full feature story.