An expanded federal HIV testing initiative has confirmed a high prevalence of the virus in Harris County, with 1,000 new cases identified and a heavy burden of infection among black residents tested. Overall, 2 percent of those screened had the virus, and half had not been diagnosed.
Houston is often cited as a place where the HIV infection rate is twice the nation’s, which was affirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s three-year testing project. The screenings reached beyond people with risk factors to general populations in 25 U.S. cities to determine if opt-out testing in emergency rooms, substance abuse centers, STD clinics, correctional health facilities and community health centers could increase the number of people with HIV who were diagnosed.
“The expanded testing project allowed us to find and detect individuals who were infected with HIV and who may not have known,” said Marlene McNeese-Ward, who leads the Houston health department’s Bureau of HIV, STD and Viral Hepatitis prevention. Fewer than 4 percent of patients declined, she said.
The program focused on people who received care at four emergency rooms — Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Ben Taub and LBJ general hospitals and Memorial Hermann Southwest – as well as Legacy Community Health Services clinics.
According to the CDC, Houston ranked among the Top 10 areas for the number of HIV tests provided and the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections identified.
Nationwide, 1.2 million Americans have HIV, and one in five, or roughly 240,000, don’t know they have the infection.