More HIV testing will be available in the Chicago area, thanks to a five-year, $4.5 million federal public health grant recently awarded to the University of Chicago Medicine.

The grant, for the hospital’s Expanded HIV Testing and Linkage to Care (xTLC) program, will allow the hospital to increase the number of HIV tests it administers on the South and West sides of Chicago, and for the first time, offer testing in suburban Cook County.

The program will be expanded into UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, and Howard Brown Health Center, an LGBTQ organization with sites throughout Chicago. There are now 16 institutions partnering with UChicago Medicine on this initiative.

“It’s all part of the bigger effort toward HIV elimination,” said David Pitrak, MD, chief of infectious diseases and global health, who heads up the xTLC program and is also co-director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE).

Even though HIV has leveled off since 2012 from its peak in the 1980s, Pitrak estimates one out of every 100 people in Chicago now lives with HIV.

Roughly 1.2 million people in the United States have the HIV virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 14% of them (1 in 7, or about 240,000 people) are unaware they are infected.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus weakens a person’s immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection. HIV is treatable with prescription drugs, but if left untreated, it can be transmitted to others and will likely evolve into AIDS, a potentially deadly disease.

Pitrak said the number of HIV cases is going down in every demographic except one: young black men who have sex with men and women. He hopes that xTLC’s additional testing will reach people in this at-risk demographic, to help them get treatment or preventative interventions, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.

Of the 474,221 tests conducted between 2011 and 2018, 2,451 were found to be HIV-positive, and 735 of those tested were unaware that they had the virus.

 

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Originally reported in The Forefront, 9/17/2019