HIV Tests To Become As Routine As Blood Tests

By Amir Khan on August 21, 2012 9:26 AM EDT

blood test
Getting an HIV test may soon become as routine as checking your cholesterol levels. (Photo: Creative Commons: Thirteen of )

Getting an HIV test may soon become as routine as checking your cholesterol levels. A U.S. Preventive Services Task is expected to make an announcement recommending routine HIV testing for everyone -- a move that would help catch and treat the disease earlier and change how it is perceived.

Currently, the task force leaves HIV testing up to the doctor, but the new recommendation will make the tests routine.

"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," Michael Kharfen, chief of community outreach for the Washington, D.C., Department of Health, told Reuters. "It still will take culture change for medical providers, but this will be a tremendous leap."

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HIV causes a failure of the immune system. Some people develop flulike symptoms within a few weeks of being infected, but most infected people show no symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1 million Americans live with HIV, and about 25 percent of seropositive people are unaware of their HIV status, according to the CDC.

No cure for HIV is known, but treatments include drug cocktails that inhibit formation of new HIV particles. If treatment begins early, life expectancy is 32 years, according to a 2006 study published in Med Care. Life expectancy shrinks as treatment is delayed.

Risk factors for HIV include having sex with multiple partners, having sex without a condom, and having sex with men who have sex with men, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases

The CDC, however, disagrees with the panel's recommendation, saying a more cost effective approach would be to screen the general population once, and follow it up with routine testing of at-risk groups.

But Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, who directs the United Medical Center, an HIV clinic in Washington, told Reuters that this recommendation isn't about cost.

"This test is all about talking about sex and facing things about your patient that you feel uncomfortable facing," she said. "For years this was considered a gay disease so doctors did not get into the habit of talking about HIV or thinking that their patients might have HIV because they may not have had gay patients or they might not have known they have gay patients."

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