Although younger men who have sex with men ( MSM ) are often at the highest risk of HIV infection, only 30 percent of the respondents in a new study from local researchers had ever been tested.
The greatest barriers to their being tested, according to research conducted by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the San Clemente, California-based Center for Innovative Public Health Research ( CIPHR ), are not knowing where to go to get an HIV test, fear of being recognized at the testing site and thinking that oneself is not at risk for infection.
The study was published by Journal of Adolescent Health Aug. 26 and showed that 42.9 percent of respondents did not not know where an HIV-test would be available.
"The key finding was that not knowing where to get tested is the biggest barrier," explained Brian Mustanski, associate professor in Medical Social Sciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Feinberg and principal investigator of the study. "Fortunately, that is something we can do something about. I think that there are a number of straightforward solutions to that."
Mustanski and his colleagues polled approximately 302 adolescent gay and bisexual men they recruited via Facebook ads for a text-message based HIV prevention program. Recruitment was stratified to ensure that about 50 percent of enrollees were sexually inexperienced. Co-authors on the study included Gregory Phillips II of Feinberg; Michele L. Ybarra and Tonya L. Prescott of CIPHR; and Jeffrey T. Parsons of Hunter College.
Among the solutions the authors proposed were making testing information readily available online via the Internet or smartphone or tablet apps, and providing in-school testing that would "normalize" the process for teenagers.
Mustanski is also director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University, which produced a video at Center on Halsted which illustrated, step-by-step, the HIV testing process at the Center so that younger viewers might get a sense of what the process entailed.
"One thing that's encouraging is that, where we live, anyone who is 12 or older can get an HIV test without parental consent. So they go in, get tested, and walk out without fear that their parents would find out," said Mustanski, adding that his team had also discussed the recommendations with Chicago Department of Public Health officials.
The study is at www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X&; 15 )00259-1/fulltext. IMPACT's video is at bit.ly/1JFhQjD .