Almost one-quarter of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States occur among persons aged 13–24 years. These youths have the poorest HIV care continuum (HCC) outcomes, yet few empirical youth-specific data are available.
The Strategic Multisite Initiative for the Identification, Linkage, and Engagement in Care of HIV-infected youth (SMILE) helped HIV-infected (mostly newly diagnosed) youth, aged 12–24 years, link to youth-friendly care, and evaluated each milestone of the HCC (October 2012–September 2014). Numbers of HIV-infected youth referred, linked, engaged, and retained in care were recorded, along with sociodemographics. Viral suppression (VS) was defined as ≥1 HIV viral load (VL) below the level of detection on study. Correlates of VS were examined using Cox proportional hazards models.
Among 1411 HIV-infected youth, 1053 (75%) were linked, 839 (59%) engaged, and 473 (34%) retained in care at adolescent health care sites. Antiretroviral therapy was initiated among 474 (34%), and 166 (12%) achieved VS. Predictors of VS included lower VL at baseline [aHR 1.56 (95% CI: 1.32–1.89), P < 0.0001], recent antiretroviral therapy receipt [aHR 3.10 (95% CI: 1.86–5.18), P < 0.0001], and shorter time from HIV testing until referral to linkage coordinator [aHR 2.52 (95% CI: 1.50–4.23), P = 0.0005 for 7 days to 6 weeks and aHR 2.08 (95% CI: 1.08–4.04), P = 0.0294 for 6 weeks to 3 months compared with >3 months].
Although this large national sample of predominately newly diagnosed youths linked to care at similar rates as adults, they achieved disproportionately lower rates of VS. Prompt referral to youth-friendly linkage services was an independent predictor of VS. Youth-focused interventions are urgently needed to improve their HCC outcomes.