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Nancy Badertscher
By Nancy Badertscher June 19, 2015

Many get HIV diagnosis only after developing AIDS?

The health departments in Fulton and Dekalb counties are hosting a week of free HIV screenings that ends on National HIV Testing Day, June 27.


The immediate goal of the Test Atlanta campaign, which starts Sunday, is to encourage people from age 13 to 64 to know their HIV status by getting tested, officials with Fulton County Health and Wellness said in a press release on June 16, 2015.


"Finding out whether you are infected with HIV is the first step to getting connected to life-saving care," the release states. " It’s estimated almost 40 percent of people with HIV are not diagnosed until they have developed AIDS. That can be up to 10 years after they first became infected."


Those statistics got our attention.


PolitiFact Georgia decided to check further.


We contacted Lyn Vaughn, risk communicator with Fulton County Health and Wellness, to ask the source of those statistics.


She provided with us links to, and excerpts from, two statements, one from the Centers for Disease Control and one she said was from the National Association of People Living with AIDS, the group credited with starting the national testing day.


The report from the CDC, issued in 2010, said nationally, the proportion of patients diagnosed with AIDS at or within 12 months of their HIV diagnosis in 2007 was 32 percent.


We tried to contact officials with the association to ask about the source of their statistics but were unsuccessful. We later learned from the group’s web site that the association filed bankruptcy and closed its doors after 30 years in February 2013.


The CDC, which supported National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) from its founding, continues to promote the annual event and advocate for routine HIV testing.


According to the CDC, more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and almost one in seven or 14 percent are unaware of their infection. In the past decade, the number of people living with HIV has increased, but the annual number of new HIV infections has remained relatively stable -- at about 50,000 a year, the CDC reports.


So what about that statistic?

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Vaughn later sent us additional information, including a recent news report on ongoing HIV testing available to patients who come through the emergency room at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.


Not all of the patients agree to be tested. But among those who were diagnosed as HIV infected between July 2013 and February of this year, nearly half had AIDS, according to data we received from Grady.


The physician in charge of Grady’s program said many of the patients in the group that was subject of the report had been HIV positive for several years.


The other data we looked at came from the state Department of Public Health.


In Georgia, 24 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV patients in 2012 already had AIDS, the agency reported. That percentage also held true for 2013 as well, DPH reports show.


We also circled back to the CDC, where the most recent data available is for 2012.


Nationally, also, 24 percent of patients who were initially diagnosed with HIV infection were simultaneously diagnosed with AIDS, the CDC reported in 2012.


Most of those people were likely infected for many years without knowing it, the CDC said.


Our ruling


The press release from Fulton County Health and Wellness promoting the week of testing for HIV states that almost 40 percent of people with the virus are not diagnosed until they already have developed AIDS. And that can be up to 10 years after they first are infected.


That specific statistic reportedly came from a national organization that is no longer in operation and appears high compared to the 24 percent figure reported t by the state and CDC.


But that still supports the health department’s overarching point about the need for early testing and treatment.


For that reason, we rate the statement Mostly True.


Our Sources

"A Week of Free, Metro-wide HIV Testing Begins June 21st Through National HIV Testing Day, June 27th," press release, Fulton county web page


2010 STD Treatment Guidelines, Centers for Disease Control, ref. 2007 data.


Statistics provided by Lyn Vaughn, attributed to National Association of People Living with AIDS


Website of the National HIV Testing Day


Email and phone call with Denise Simpson, media relations manager, Grady Health System


Review of data from Grady Emergency Room analysis of HIV patient reports, July 2013 to February 2015


WABE report on Grady findings


Website of the now-defunct National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA)


Centers for Disease Control 2012 data


HIV data from the Georgia Department of Public Health

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