Up to 20% – or about 7,200 – of the 36,000 people living with HIV in Illinois do not know they are HIV+, according to state health experts. The percentage and number of undiagnosed residents has been decreasing as more individuals get tested and learn their HIV status.
The overall number of HIV+ Illinois residents also has been decreasing as individuals learn their HIV+ status and take steps to prevent infecting others. While this progress is occurring among some high-risk groups such as injectable drug users and African-American women, infections among gay and bisexual men are still high. Making strides among young gay and bisexual men (age 13-24) is especially challenging, with one of four new HIV infections occurring within this age group.
In keeping with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, Illinois is working to reduce new infections and provide treatment to people living with HIV, especially within the gay and bisexual, African-American, Hispanic and prison populations, in which health disparities exist.
Encouraging HIV testing is an important aspect of both reducing infections and bringing treatment to people living with HIV. When unaware of their HIV infection, individuals can spread HIV to others through unprotected sex, intravenous drug use or other ways, causing up to 75 percent of new HIV cases. In addition, undiagnosed individuals also do not receive the benefit of medical treatments that can slow the progression of HIV infection into AIDS or other illnesses.
Due to the high percentage of HIV+ individuals who remain undiagnosed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all individuals age 13-64 be tested for HIV infection. Those wishing not to be tested can choose to decline or “opt-out.”
The state of Illinois has adopted the CDC’s recommendation as law. As a result, the Illinois Department of Public Health expects increased numbers of individuals to be diagnosed as HIV+.
Once these individuals are diagnosed, Illinois HIV Care Connect helps them to find the health care and support services they need to achieve optimal health and self-sufficiency.
Illinois HIV Care Connect hopes to build upon other statewide HIV programs recognized for their efforts to reduce HIV infection. For example, the CDC recognized the Illinois Perinatal HIV Prevention Act, which requires Illinois providers to conduct prenatal HIV testing of pregnant women and newborn HIV testing. If tested positive for HIV within 24 hours after birth, newborns are given antiretroviral medication for up to six weeks; this medication has decreased newborn HIV infection in Illinois by 99 percent. A role model for other states wishing to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission, Illinois is one of only a few states to provide this safety net.