ATLANTA – Testing for the AIDS virus could become part of routine physical exams for adults and teens if doctors follow new U.S. guidelines expected to be issued by summer.
Federal health officials say they’d like HIV testing to be as common as a cholesterol check.
The guidelines for voluntary testing would apply to every American ages 13 to 64, according to the proposed plan by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One-quarter of the 1 million Americans with the AIDS virus don’t know they are infected, and that group is most responsible for HIV’s spread, CDC officials said.
“We need to expand access to HIV testing dramatically by making it a routine part of medical care,” said the agency’s Dr. Kevin Fenton.
CDC officials first disclosed the plans at a scientific conference in February. Last week, they said the guidelines should be released in June or July.
The recommendations aren’t legally binding, but they influence what doctors do and what health insurance programs cover.
Currently, the CDC recommends routine testing for those at high risk for catching the virus, such as IV drug users and gay men, and for hospitals and certain other institutions serving areas where HIV is common.
Standardizing HIV testing should reduce the stigma as well as transmission, CDC officials said. Nearly half of new HIV infections are discovered when doctors are trying to diagnose an illness in a patient who has come for care, they noted.
The American Medical Association supports the proposed recommendations, said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based physician who is speaker of the AMA’s House of Delegates.
“I’m so happy the CDC is recommending this,” she said. “HIV is an infectious disease and it should be treated like any other infectious disease. The fact that it has been treated so differently, I think, in some ways has contributed to the stigma.”