Test-and-treat’ is unlikely to be an effective strategy to control the HIV epidemic in the United States without improvements in retention in care, investigators argue in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases. A mathematical model suggested that without interventions to address poor levels of engagement in HIV care, there could be as many as 1.39 million new HIV infections in the US over the next 20 years, at a cost of $256 billion. Targeting testing and linkage would only prevent 21% of these new infections. But a package of interventions comprising testing, linkage and retention in care would prevent over half of the projected new infections, reduce AIDS-related mortality by almost two-thirds and be cost effective.
“To alter the course of the HIV epidemic in the United States, strategies of ‘test and treat’ alone may be insufficient; attention to the full continuum of care will be essential,” comment the authors.
United States guidelines recommend expanded HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy at any CD4 count as strategies to reduce rates of AIDS-related deaths and HIV transmissions. However, this approach may not be as effective as hoped. Recent research has shown that there is significant attrition at each stage of the HIV care continuum in the US. Up to a fifth of HIV-infected individuals are undiagnosed; 20% of recently diagnosed patients are not linked to care within 90 days; 54% of patients are not retained in care; only 30% of diagnosed patients have an undetectable viral load.