HIV has become a critical public health concern in the U.S. About 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year despite strides in reducing the cases. It is estimated that 1.2 million Americans are infected since the first reported AIDS cases in 1981. Only 20% of the 25% of them do not know it, and 595,000 have died from this disease. Since treatment is effective when people are asymptomatic, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force calls for all Americans ages 15 up to 65 years old to be provided routine screening regardless of their risk. While it is not mentioned how frequent, the high-risk individuals should be tested, the guidelines calls of at least once for every adult.
The guideline was released after a well-publicized case of early treatment improved the patient’s survival rate with the combination of powerful antiretroviral drugs. The recommendations will expand the number of Americans who know their HIV status. This will help them take action to protect themselves and their partners to reduce the risk of infection by as much as 96%. HIV is a retrovirus commonly transmitted through blood and semen that attack the immune system and take decades for symptoms to appear. Injection drug users, bisexuals, people who exchange sex for money, and having an HIV positive sex partners are high-risk of infection.
Up until recently, only pregnant women and people in the risk groups are recommended the HIV screening. Based on the recent data 25% of people who carry HIV in the U.S. have no idea that they are infected. Conventional and rapid HIV antibody tests are highly accurate in diagnosing the infection. The long term antiretroviral drugs will increase patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease, but the magnitude of the risk is small. Thus, it is recommendation that everyone from 15 to 65 as well as younger and older individuals in high-risk groups should be tested.
While ending the epidemic is difficult, informing infected individuals may reduce the transmission risk, and effective screening will make it possible. The government panel of doctors and scientists initially issued the recommendation for high-risk HIV individuals in 2005. Currently, the healthcare law recommends coverage testing for adolescents and adults under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.
While the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services could not confirm whether it will be covered for every adult, Lennox concurs that it may take time before the agency catches up with the new policy. However, this should clear the confusion with primary care doctors who have not been offering the test.
The testing will encourage people to get tested and reduce any stigma associated with it. HIV testing is as routine as blood pressure check or cholesterol test. Only half of the Americans got tested, and they will also have the chance to opt out of. Lennox and others said it is too early to say whether the new guidelines will result in a significant increase in the number of tests, but the potential for insurance coverage may help. The task force recommendation will put more emphasis on the need for all adults in the United States to be tested. This should also encourage more doctors to discuss the need with their patients.
Written By: Janet Grace Ortigas