Health panel likely to make HIV tests routine
WASHINGTON DC (Reuters) - A U.S. health panel may soon make HIV testing as standard a practice as checking cholesterol levels, a move that would fundamentally change how the virus is detected and treated.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task force, a government-backed group of clinicians and scientists, is expected to make a new recommendation on HIV screening available for public comment before the end of the year.
Health officials close to the panel see it making a positive recommendation for routine screening, updating their current position, issued in 2005, which leaves the decision up to doctors.
"This would be one of those major sea changes ... moving away from what has been somewhat the segmentation of HIV - either by population, by geography," said Michael Kharfen, chief of community outreach for the Washington DC Department of Health. Kharfen, who worked on the frontlines of the HIV epidemic in New York in the 1980s, recalls when the prognosis for the disease was "practically certain you were going to die.
"It still will take culture change for medical providers, but this will be a tremendous leap," he said.
The HIV/AIDs epidemic remains a major disease burden in the United States with an estimated 1.2 million people living with the disease. Of this group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 20 percent are unaware of their infection.
Nearly 60,000 new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS are reported nationally every year.
The CDC and other prominent groups have already called for routine HIV screening as a way to reach a much broader population and reduce the stigma some associate with showing up at an HIV clinic. But a recommendation from the task force would carry greater weight, as the U.S. health reform law of 2010 will require insurers to cover preventive services it endorses.
Global health officials have also stepped up the call for earlier treatment of people infected with HIV. New studies show that the latest HIV medications not only can extend the lives of patients for decades but are also one of the most potent ways of preventing their sexual partners from contracting the disease. Early treatment of HIV has been reported to cut transmission risk to uninfected partners by 96 percent.
"All healthcare providers have a responsibility to find cases of HIV because we don't know where they are," said Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, who directs the United Medical Center, an HIV clinic in Washington DC. While doctors in the past focused on higher risk groups such as men who have sex with men, she said, "HIV is in the general population now."http://news.yahoo.com/health-panel-likely-hiv-tests-routine-140156382.html