But there is still no cure. Antiretroviral therapy is the only way to extend patients' lives. Patients have the best chance of survival if they receive therapy before they develop symptoms. That makes early testing for HIV infection the key to saving lives.
"Yet one in four people living with HIV in the United States don't know they're infected. Even today, 25 years after the U.S. epidemic began, too many people aren't tested until they're already sick with AIDS," said Daniel R. Kuritzkes, MD, chair of the HIV Medicine Association.
People who test positive for HIV usually change their behavior to prevent spreading the virus. Low rates of testing are a factor in why the epidemic is still growing by an estimated 40,000 infections a year.
Part of the reason so few people are getting tested for HIV infection is because one has to ask to be tested. Furthermore, in order to be tested, the patient must receive lengthy counseling before and after the test that can take up to an hour.
"Almost no other disease requires that," added HIVMA Vice Chair Arlene Bardeguez, MD, MPH. "Imagine having to ask your doctor for a Pap smear, or to be screened for high blood pressure or diabetes, and then spending an hour on counseling. Those successful prevention efforts would reach a lot fewer patients than they do today."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing guidelines that would make HIV testing a routine part of medical care. Patients in doctors' offices, hospitals, emergency rooms, and other medical settings would be informed that they will be tested for HIV unless they choose not to be. The sooner they become national policy, the better. Pregnant women are already be
Contact: Steve Baragona
Infectious Diseases Society of America