Diagnosed HIV cases plummet during pandemic — but that’s probably bad news

New HIV diagnoses dropped 17% in the first year of the coronavirus Pandemic, a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

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But the drop in new cases might not be something to celebrate. In fact, experts are worried that thousands of people across the country are living with undiagnosed infections of the virus.

“Usually, we would be celebrating a 17% drop in HIV diagnoses,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the CDC’s director of the Division of HIV / AIDS Prevention (DHAP), told ABC News.

“We know that something happened specifically in 2020 that makes it unlikely that the 17% drop was more than an artifact of the impact of COVID-19 on HIV testing.”

In recent years, science has made great advancements in HIV research with at-home testing and treatments that allow people to lead longer, healthier lives, but there is still no cure.

While at-home HIV testing is more accessible, Daskalakis does not believe that those tests would make up for the drop in access to testing during the Pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 hit, the CDC estimated that more than 1 million people were living with HIV – but that about 13% were unaware.

Experts now worry that the percentage has jumped.

Among the decrease in reported cases, experts are also concerned that some of the sharpest declines in reported cases were amongst the groups now at-risk for HIV.

The report noted a 29% decrease in HIV testing for gay and bisexual men, plus men who have sex with men; a 47% decrease for transgender people; and a 44% to 46% decrease in testing among black, Hispanic and Latino people.

This drop in HIV cases came as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continued to increase during the Pandemic.

The CDC recommends that all people aged 13 to 64 should be tested for HIV at least once in their lives, and those who have a higher risk of being exposed should be tested more often.

“It’s a really good time to reinvigorate and really encourage everyone to get tested for HIV,” Daskalakis said. “That’s why it’s so important as we approach National HIV Testing Day to focus on that message, which is HIV testing and self-care.”

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