Study finds poor knowledge about HIV

A patient recently admitted to Grady Hospital in Atlanta for HIV treatment had known she was HIV positive for more than six years, but never did anything about it even though she used to work at the hospital as a nurse practitioner. Her denial or lack of knowledge about HIV is shared by too many infected people around the country, according to a recent survey.

One out of three people with HIV say they did not need medical treatment and did not know their viral load, research by the Philadelphia EMA HIV Commission has concluded. The commission, which advises the Philadelphia Health Department, urges more information on HIV treatment targeted to communities of color.

The survey of 1,069 people, one of the most comprehensive of its kind, also found that lack of knowledge about HIV was greater among people of color. African-Americans and Latinos with HIV were twice as likely not to know their CD4 counts (14% and 10% vs. 4% for whites). Half of Latinos and 40% of African-Americans didn’t know their viral load, while only 17% of whites reported the same. Moreover, only 11% of African-Americans and 9% of Latinos did not understand the meaning of viral load, vs. only 3% of whites.

"It’s clear that many HIV-positive people do not understand that they need to start medical treatment early, and not wait until they are already sick," says Mick Mauer, MD, co-chair of the commission, which advises the Philadelphia Health Department.

The study also found that people of color were less likely to use new anti-HIV drug combinations than whites. Only 56% of African-American and Latino respondents reported using protease inhibitors, compared to 71% of whites.