The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

November 20, 2012

New push for most in US to get at least 1 HIV test

(Continued)

There are a number of ways to get tested. If you're having blood drawn for other exams, the doctor can merely add HIV to the list, no extra pokes or swabs needed. Today's rapid tests can cost less than $20 and require just rubbing a swab over the gums, with results ready in as little as 20 minutes. Last summer, the government approved a do-it-yourself at-home version that's selling for about $40.

Free testing is available through various community programs around the country, including a CDC pilot program in drugstores in 24 cities and rural sites.

Monday's proposal also recommends:

—Testing people older and younger than 15-64 if they are at increased risk of HIV infection,

—People at very high risk for HIV infection should be tested at least annually.

—It's not clear how often to retest people at somewhat increased risk, but perhaps every three to five years.

—Women should be tested during each pregnancy, something the task force has long recommended.

The draft guidelines are open for public comment through Dec. 17.

Most of the 50,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. every year are among gay and bisexual men, followed by heterosexual black women.

"We are not doing as well in America with HIV testing as we would like," Dr. Jonathan Mermin, CDC's HIV prevention chief, said Monday.

The CDC recommends at least one routine test for everyone ages 13 to 64, starting two years younger than the task force recommended. That small difference aside, CDC data suggests fewer than half of adults under 65 have been tested.

"It can sometimes be awkward to ask your doctor for an HIV test," Mermin said — the reason that making it routine during any health care encounter could help.

But even though nearly three-fourths of gay and bisexual men with undiagnosed HIV had visited some sort of health provider in the previous year, 48 percent weren't tested for HIV, a recent CDC survey found. Emergency rooms are considered a good spot to catch the undiagnosed, after their illnesses and injuries have been treated, but Mermin said only about 2 percent of ER patients known to be at increased risk were tested while there.

Mermin calls that "a tragedy. It's a missed opportunity."

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