Context: Rural areas in the southern United States face many challenges, including limited access to health care services and stigma, which may lead to later HIV diagnosis among rural residents.
Purpose: To investigate the associations of rural residence with timing of HIV diagnosis and stage of disease at diagnosis.
Methods: Timing of HIV diagnosis was categorized as a diagnosis of acquired immune deficiency syndrome within 1 year of a first positive HIV test or HIV-only. Stage of disease was based on initial CD4+ T-cell count taken within 1 year of diagnosis. County of residence at HIV diagnosis was classified as urban if the population of the largest city was at least 25,000; it was classified as rural otherwise. Logistic regression was used to analyze timing of HIV diagnosis, and analysis of covariance was used to analyze stage of disease.
Findings: From 2001 to 2005, 4,137 individuals were diagnosed with HIV infection. Of these, 1,129 (27%) were rural and 3,008 (73%) were urban residents. Among rural residents, 533 (47%) were diagnosed late, compared with 1,258 (42%) urban residents. Rural residents were significantly more likely to be diagnosed late (OR 1.19 [95% CI, 1.02-1.38]). Rural residence was associated with lower initial CD4+ T-cell count in crude analysis (P= .01) but not after adjustment (P > .05).
Conclusions: Rural residence is a risk factor for late HIV diagnosis. This may lead to reduced treatment response to antiretroviral medications, increased morbidity and mortality, and greater HIV transmission risks among rural residents. New testing strategies are needed that address challenges to HIV testing and diagnosis specific to rural areas.