How Many Americans Don't Know They Have HIV?

November 17th 2015

Ingrid Holmquist

More than 1 in 8 Americans with HIV don’t know they’re infected, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was released earlier this year.

Over 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV and 156,000 of them have no clue. That’s roughly 13 percent of the HIV positive population.

The data visualization group Dadaviz looked at the CDC numbers and made this infographic to show which U.S. states had the most infected residents who were unaware of their status:

Dadviz graph of HIV status awareness 

Rates of unawareness were worst in the South and in the Midwest, with Louisiana, Georgia, and Iowa having the three highest rates, respectively. Vermont led the U.S. as having a 0 percent rate.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) raids the immune system and, if untreated, can cause AIDS. So it’s important that you know whether or not you have the virus, which is most commonly passed along by sexual partners and can also be spread due to needle sharing.

The virus is passed from blood stream to blood stream via semen, vaginal fluids, blood, or breast milk. The risk of the virus being transmitted is greatly reduced if sexual partners use condoms.

According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study, 30 percent of new HIV positive people were infected by someone unaware of their infection.

The Obama administration made HIV awareness a national goal in 2010 with the first “indicator of progress” being “increase the percentage of people living with HIV who know their serostatus to at least 90 percent.”

The states that have met or exceeded this 90 percent awareness goal are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, and New York, according to Out. The 46 other states are still pushing to meet the 90 percent mark. Coming in dead last in the race toward HIV awareness is Louisiana with a 77 percent awareness rate.

It’s especially vital to know whether or not you’re HIV positive to stop the spread of the virus to others as well as to stop the progression from HIV to AIDS.

HIV is treatable, but requires swift action. Getting early treatment reduces the risk of death or serious illness by 53 percent, according to the START ("Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment"), a clinical trial aimed at finding the right time for HIV infected people to start antiretroviral therapy. It’s no longer the death sentence it once was and those infected can live long and healthy lives. Though HIV is incurable, proper medication can stop the growth of the virus in its tracks.

Treatment often includes a number of different drugs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs compares treatment to fighting a war saying, “It’s similar to the way the military plans an attack using the different strengths of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.”

The anthem of these findings? Get tested! Here is a resource to find a testing location.