New push for most in US to get at least 1 HIV test

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:39 a.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There’s a new push to make testing for the AIDS virus as common as cholesterol checks.

Americans ages 15 to 64 should get an HIV test at least once – not just people considered at high risk for the virus, an independent panel that sets screening guidelines proposed Monday.

The draft guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are the latest recommendations that aim to make HIV screening simply a routine part of a check-up, something a doctor can order with as little fuss as a cholesterol test or a mammogram. Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has pushed for widespread, routine HIV screening.

Yet not nearly enough people have heeded that call: Of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, nearly 1 in 5 – almost 240,000 people – don’t know it. Not only is their own health at risk without treatment, they could unwittingly be spreading the virus to others.

And if finalized, the task force guidelines could extend the number of people eligible for an HIV screening without a copay in their doctor’s office, as part of free preventive care under the Obama administration’s health care law.

Most of the 50,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. every year are among gay and bisexual men, followed by heterosexual black women.

“We are not doing as well in America with HIV testing as we would like,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, CDC’s HIV prevention chief, said Monday.

The CDC recommends at least one routine test for everyone ages 13 to 64, starting two years younger than the task force recommended. That small difference aside, CDC data suggests fewer than half of adults under 65 have been tested.

“It can sometimes be awkward to ask your doctor for an HIV test,” Mermin said – the reason that making it routine during any health care encounter could help.

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