Gay and bisexual teenage boys are at the highest risk for HIV infection, but get tested for the virus at a much lower rate than their older peers. According to research published online Aug. 26 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, only one in five gay and bisexual males between 14 to 18 years gets screened.
“Rates of new HIV infection continue to increase among young gay and bisexual men,” principal investigator Brian Mustanski, PhD, an associate professor of medical school sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
“Testing is critical because it can help those who are positive receive lifesaving medical care. Effective treatment can also help prevent them from transmitting the virus to others,” added Mustanski, who is also director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Feinberg.
For the study, Mustanski and his colleagues used ads on Facebook to recruit 302 self-identified gay and bisexual teen boys to take part in a Guy2Guy – an educational program that uses text messaging to provide information about HIV and preventive measures.
“We did a brief phone call with them to make sure they were appropriate for the study … and had them fill out questionnaires at the beginning,” Mustanski told Reuters Health. As part of the program, the teens were asked if they had been tested for HIV in the past and if not, why not.
Study findings showed that only 20 percent of the teens had been tested for the virus, in vast contrast to the 75 percent of men ages 18 to 19 who reported being tested in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in 2008.
Among the reasons listed for not getting the test were not knowing where to find a testing location and worries about being recognized at a testing site. To a lesser degree but especially significant, one-third of the teens did not see themselves at risk for the HIV infection.
“Understanding the barriers to testing provides critical information for intervening, so we can help young men get tested,” lead author Gregory Phillips II, PhD, a research assistant professor of medical social sciences at Feinberg and a member of the IMPACT team, said in the news release.
The researchers noted their findings suggest testing can be increased by providing young gay and bisexual teens with an easy way to find testing sites, including text messaging, online programs and on-site testing at schools.
“Providing in-school testing would normalize the process,” Phillips said. “If there is a constant presence of on-site testing at schools, testing would seem less stigmatized. It would also increase knowledge about testing and make it less scary.”