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02-10-2005, 11:01 AM
Researchers: HIV Tests Should Be Routine For Nearly Everyone
Studies Unclear About How Expanded Testing Would Be Funded

POSTED: 9:34 am EST February 10, 2005

BOSTON -- Two federally funded studies recommend that virtually all Americans undergo routine testing for the AIDS virus.

But it's not clear how it would be funded.

The studies, which appear in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, noted that any cost for testing would be outweighed by a reduction in new infections and allow those exposed to begin using disease-fighting drug cocktails much earlier.

The study conducted by researchers at researchers at Yale, Harvard and the Massachusetts General Hospital used different data and methods than another study by researchers at Duke, Stanford, St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, but both teams reached roughly the same conclusions.

"The dovetailing of these two studies is breathtaking," said A. David Paltiel, an associate professor of health policy and administration at Yale and lead researcher of one of the studies.

"We're convinced, based on what we've done, that there needs to be more screening," said Dr. Douglas Owens, of the VA Palo Alto, one of the leaders of the other study. "It's exciting that a completely independent analysis had the same findings as we did. Both of these studies show that screening prolongs life and is affordable."

Experts have long known the importance of catching HIV early. Delays in treatment can lead to irreversible immunologic damage and complications, as well as further transmission of the virus, according to a Stanford news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 20,000 new infections each year can be attributed to people who are unaware of their HIV-positive status. The agency also reports that more than 40 percent of patients don't learn of their infection until very late in the game.

Dr. Samuel Bozzette wrote in an editorial accompanying the studies that failing to act at this time would be "a critical disservice" to patients with the AIDS virus and the nation's overall health.

A 2003 CDC initiative recommended making voluntary testing a routine part of medical care. But Owens said the majority of HIV patients are diagnosed only after showing symptoms that prompt testing.

Dr. Robert Janssen, the director of HIV-AIDS prevention at the CDC, said the agency will re-evaluate its guidelines over the next two years and act accordingly.