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HIV/AIDS testing may become more routine

By Aaron Blevins, 11/21/2012

Task force calls for more screening

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HIV screenings may become more routine during clinical visits after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed recommendations that could make the tests more common and affordable.

The task force on Nov. 20 released the proposed recommendations and is seeking public comment. The draft calls for clinicians to screen people ages 15 to 65 for HIV, a change from the 2005 recommendations, which suggested that clinicians screen people who are at risk of contracting the disease.

Susan Cohen, director of health education and prevention for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, said the announcement was welcome news, specifically because it is a “grade A” recommendation, meaning there will be no cost-sharing obligation to the patient.

“It’s really great for a number of reasons,” Cohen said, adding that the tests cost between $35 and $50, and the out-of-pocket expense is a barrier to people getting tested and receiving life-saving treatment.

If adopted, the recommendations would likely lead to the tests becoming more accessible for the at-risk population and the adolescent and adult population as a whole, she said. The draft recommendations also suggested screenings for pregnant women.

The task force estimated that as many as 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV. Cohen said approximately 50,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed each year, and as many as 25 percent of people living with HIV are unaware that they have the disease.

“That’s really an important statistic,” she added.

Cohen said the recommendations stop short of suggesting counseling, which is offered to every patient who is screened at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. She said patients must know how to reduce their risks of contracting the disease.

“While the wide release of HIV testing is a really positive thing, there are people who also need to understand what the results of their tests mean,” Cohen added. “Even though HIV testing looks like it is going to be widely available, we cannot underscore enough the need for counseling for people who are most at risk for HIV.”

She said the task force’s announcement should help reduce the stigma of getting an HIV test. Cohen referenced a public education campaign in which a clinic offered tests for cholesterol, blood sugar and HIV.

“It was kind of normalizing it within a series of tests,” she said, adding that it also shows a culture change that recognizes the infection as a public health issue. “It absolutely does represent a paradigm shift. I think it’s absolutely the right direction.”

Although large cities tend to be the “epicenters” of the virus, the task force recommendations, which are sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, will help patients throughout the country, Cohen said.

“This recommendation is going to make it that much easier for them to find a test and not have to pay for it,” she added.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will accept public comment through Dec. 17. When the comment period closes, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center officials expect the recommendations to be approved.

“We don’t think there’s any reason they wouldn’t move to a full recommendation,” Cohen said.

For information, visit www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org.

 

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