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HIV Testing For All Adults Recommended By U.S. Medical Panel
April 30, 2013
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Anytime you go for a physical, you get your cholesterol level and your blood pressure tested. At a certain age, we get screened for breast cancer or prostate cancer.

But how would you feel about being tested for HIV?

Well, an influential panel of medical experts in the United States is calling for all people, aged 15 to 65, to be screened regularly for HIV - even if they're not considered high risk.

The recommendations come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of independent doctors and scientists backed by the government.

The U.S. has made great strides in reducing the spread of HIV over the past 30 years, but up to 50,000 Americans still become infected each year.

It's estimated nearly 1.2 million people in the U.S. are HIV positive but the panel says about 20 per cent to 25 per cent don't realize they're infected. And it says when testing is only done for people considered to be "high risk", new cases are often missed.

"We may have a chance to end the AIDS epidemic, but that all begins with diagnosing infection in the estimated 20 percent of cases in the U.S. [who are] unaware of their status and thus not in medical care," said Dr. Paul Volberding, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Hence, the call for regular screening, which is also supported by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

"The Task Force's new recommendations will expand the number of Americans who know their HIV status and can take action to protect themselves and their partners," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

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There is still no cure for the virus. But recent studies suggest that treatment can cut the risk of spreading the HIV by as much as 96 per cent.

Under the guidelines, the screening would be voluntary and would likely be covered as part of a regular check-up under President Obama's health care law.

"Free, regular screening for HIV, much as we try to have regular blood pressure or breast cancer screening, is one of the best ways to start reducing the HIV epidemic in the U.S.," said Dr. Sten Vermund, director of the Institute for Global Health at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The panel hopes that by making HIV testing a common procedure, it will help reduce any stigma that keeps people from getting screened. Overall, the CDC says more than half of all Americans have never been tested.

"We do hope the fact that the guidelines are all very similar, will provide an impetus for people to offer screening because it is a very critical public-health problem," said Dr. Douglas Owens, a member of the panel and a medical professor at Stanford University.

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The guidelines call for all adults to be screened at least once, with periodic screening for "high risk" people - although it's not clear what's meant by periodic.

High-risk groups include people who have sex with gay or bisexual men, illegal drug users and people in lower income areas, where HIV rates are high.

As in Canada, the U.S. panel says all pregnant women, including those in labour, should be tested if they don't know their HIV status.

One of Canada's leading experts on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Julio Montaner, has called for routine testing of all sexually active people in this country.

Montaner, the director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, co-wrote an editorial about it last year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

It reads in part, "A proactively deployed "seek and treat" strategy will dramatically reduce AIDS-related morbidity and death, as well as HIV transmission, and as such provide the road map for an AIDS-free generation. We must re-examine our perceptions and assumptions, including the sole reliance on risk-based HIV testing. It is now evident that HIV testing, based only on perceived risk, misses multiple opportunities for earlier diagnosis. Routine HIV testing, on the other hand, has been shown to be acceptable and highly cost-effective. It is therefore imperative to implement and evaluate routine HIV testing across Canada."

Several hospitals in Vancouver are now offering HIV screening for anyone admitted or coming to the emergency department.

Dr. Montaner has dedicated his career to the fight against HIV/AIDS and has been on the show a few times. Here he is with 'My Defining Moment'.

via webmd.com

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