Think about the last time that you got a physical exam at the doctor’s office. Yes, they took your blood and tested you for high cholesterol and diabetes. But did you assume that you were being tested for HIV, too?
Unless you specifically asked to be tested, most likely you weren’t. Public officials are concerned because currently there are over 300,000 people living with HIV in America who don’t know they are infected. Researchers say that one way to reach these folks is to make HIV tests as routine and as accessible as annual physical exams.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-endorsed group of clinicians and scientists, is considering making HIV-testing routine by the year’s end. Currently, the CDC recommends that all people ages 13-64 should be tested for HIV once as a means to reach more people and destigmatize testing, yet it’s really been up to the doctor to reach out to patients and talk about the need for testing.
In 2005, the panel voted against routine testing, according to Medical Daily.
"We did not find that evidence at that time compelling enough to say that we were confident that more people would benefit than the people who had HIV detected," said Dr. Michael LeFevre, co-chair of the task force.
"Obviously that was seven years ago," he said, noting that new scientific evidence has since emerged showing that the very treatment of infected people can help prevent them from passing on the disease. He said that will be factored into the panel's recommendation this fall.
There are questions about the cost of testing people who are believed to not be at risk for the disease. Medical Daily wrote:
Researchers at Stanford University estimate that over a 20-year period, expanding HIV testing to the general U.S. population would reach $27 billion dollars.
A more cost-effective solution proposed by the researchers, and in line with CDC recommendations, would be to do a one-time screening of the general population, followed up by annual testing in areas with greater prevalence of the disease.
Such a strategy would prevent an estimated 212,000 new infections and even lead to long-term healthcare savings, when the lifetime cost of $367,000 for HIV treatment is considered.
Despite the panel’s final decision, it’s crucial that African-Americans know their HIV status, but testing also has to be accessible.
While African-Americans make up 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, Blacks account for almost half of all HIV infections that are diagnosed each year. And to make matters worse, Blacks are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and AIDS at the same time than any other racial group.
Late HIV testing is not only dangerous for the person living with HIV/AIDS, but for the entire Black community. People who are not on AIDS medications are more likely to unknowingly transmit the virus to their partners if they have unprotected sex.
Learn where you can get tested for HIV here.
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(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)