Young gay men have the highest risk for HIV infection, but only one in five has ever been tested.
Researchers say the greatest barriers to teens getting tested are not knowing where to go to get a test, worries about being recognized, and—to a lesser degree—thinking they’re invincible and won’t get infected.
“Understanding the barriers to testing provides critical information for intervening, so we can help young men get tested,” says study first author Gregory Phillips II, a research assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an investigator for the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Feinberg.
Testing made easy
“Rates of new HIV infections continue to increase among young gay and bisexual men,” says Brian Mustanski, principal investigator of the study, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Feinberg and director of IMPACT. “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.”
The findings, published in the journal Adolescent Health, suggest testing can be increased by providing young men with an easy way to find nearby testing sites via text messaging or online programs and by opening testing sites in high schools.
“Providing in-school testing would normalize the process,” Phillips says. “If there is a constant presence of on-site testing at schools, testing would seem less stigmatized. It would also increase knowledge about the testing process and make it less scary.”
Online information explaining the testing procedure also can calm young men’s fears. Finger stick or cheek swabs are both options for testing, which teens may not realize.
Between June and November 2014, the study enrolled a national sample of 302 gay, bisexual, and queer males ages 14 to 18 years into a text messaging-based HIV prevention program (Guy2Guy). Questions about their HIV-testing behaviors were included in the study.
Researchers found only 20 percent of the teenage boys had ever been tested for HIV, a rate that is much lower than what other studies have found with adult gay and bisexual men. A 2008 national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored study of men who have sex with men found 75 percent of men ages 18 to 19 reported they had been tested for HIV, for example.
Michele Ybarra, an investigator at the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, was the co-principal investigator on the study.
The National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health funded the work.
Source: Northwestern University