Sexually active U.S. teenagers and young adults account for the greatest number of newly reported HIV infections yet just one in five has received testing for the virus, a government report indicates.
Although the group accounted for around a quarter of all new HIV infection in 2010, almost 60 percent were unaware they were infected, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
"We know that one in four new HIV infections occur in young people ages 13 to 24, which is about 12,200 new infections per year in the United States," says lead researcher Laura Kann, chief of the agency's school-based surveillance branch.
"We have too many kids in this country at risk of HIV infection and we have not enough kids tested for HIV, and we need to do more," Kann says.
The researchers will present their report, covering data from 1991 to 2013, this month at the International AIDS Conference being held in Melbourne, Australia.
Data in the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates the percentage of students being tested for HIV has stayed stagnant from 2005, a finding Kann says is worrying.
She says it's unclear why there has been so little success in increasing testing in young people, although she cites evidence of growing complacency regarding HIV among teenagers and young adults.
That complacency may stem from the fact HIV now responds to drug treatments and is no longer considered the death sentence many once held it to be, she says.
"Young people today were not around in the early days of the epidemic and did not see the havoc that it wreaked," Kann says. "And there is just not the same emphasis in our society there was previously, so some amount of complacency is there."
A previous study had found most of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 don't believe they face risks of contracting HIV, with only two-thirds of U.S. teenagers saying they were aware that HIV is a disease transmitted during sex.
Only 20 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., require HIV education programs in their schools, experts say.
There's a critical need to provide America's young people with the skills and information that will keep them healthy and safe, Kann says.
Nancy Mahon, chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, says she agrees, and that the CDC report bears that out.
"It's a wake-up call and call to action," Mahon says.