What is your HIV status? You should find out

November 21, 2012 | by Shawn Le

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is no stranger to controversial stances -- especially on cancer screenings. Now it's tackling HIV/AIDS. In draft guidelines released this week, the task force suggests that everyone  age 15 to 64 be routinely screened for HIV regardless of the individual's  relative risk of infection. The full panel has yet to decide on the guidelines, but one  City of Hope expert fully endorses the recommendation.

HIV-infected T-cells under high magnification The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is considering recommending HIV tests for everyone age 15-64. Shown here are HIV-infected T-cells under high magnification. (Credit: Comstock)

The task force is a panel of experts who take an evidence-based approach to medicine, reviewing existing studies and data to make public health recommendations. The panel recently waded into the deep end of social controversy with recommendations that healthy women under 50 should not get regular mammograms, and that men over 75 should not be screened at all for prostate cancer.

One statistic cited by the task force for its proposed HIV screening recommendation is a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention establishing that one in five HIV-positive people do not know that they are infected. The point of making screening routine is to boost awareness.

"Without proactive testing such as this, the public cannot be adequately protected," said John Zaia, M.D., chair of virology at City of Hope, fully endorses. "The current use of universal testing for blood products and for pregnant women has eliminated the problems of contaminated blood supply and of congenital HIV infection in the U.S.  There is no reason to think that early diagnosis of unsuspected HIV infection will not have a similar positive effect on public health."

As science has revealed more about the strengths and weakness of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, doctors and researchers have made great advances in the treatment of the disease. With patients living longer, society must stop seeing HIV as stigmatizing and start addressing the long-term health issues of living with a chronic condition.

Testing is a place to start.

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