Doctors: Test All Patients Over 13 for HIV
Routine HIV Testing Urged for All Patients Aged 13 to 64, Regardless of Risk Factors
Dec. 1, 2008 -- Doctors should routinely offer all their patients over age
13 a blood test to screen for HIV, the American College of Physicians (ACP)
urges in new guidelines.
The organization, which represents more than 126,000 internists, internal
medicine subspecialists, residents, and medical students, says it is issuing
the new guideline on World AIDS Day, which is Dec. 1, to raise awareness that
the disease and virus that causes it are still wreaking havoc across the
"The purpose of the guideline is to present the available evidence to
physicians as a way to help guide their decisions around screening for HIV in
their practice," says Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, senior medical associate in the
ACP's Clinical Programs and Quality of Care Department. "ACP recommends
that physicians adopt a routine screening policy for HIV and encourage their
patients to get tested, regardless of risk factors."
The ACP also recommends that doctors assess the need for repeat screening on
an individual patient basis.
Higher-risk patients should be tested more often than people at lower risk.
Higher-risk groups include men who have had sex with men, men and women who've
had unprotected sex with multiple partners, past or present injection drug
users, and men and women who trade sex for money or drugs or have sexual partners
Persons at risk also include people whose past or present sexual partners
were infected with HIV, were bisexual, or were injection drug users; people
treated for STDs,
and those with a history of blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985.
The ACP identifies patients who received care in high-risk health care
settings which would also warrant priority in screening. These include STD
clinics, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, tuberculosis clinics, substance abuse clinics, and
clinics serving men who have had sex with men. Adolescent health clinics with a
high prevalence of STDs also are considered high-risk settings.
"The intent of this guideline is to help prevent the unwitting spread of
HIV infection,'' says Vincenza Snow, MD, director of clinical programs and
quality of care at the ACP. She sees both at-risk and average-risk patients at
her free clinic in Philadelphia and says all of them should be offered HIV
testing. Snow says she tells patients that HIV screening is important so
that people will be aware of risks; and that the tests are easy, quick, and can
be performed during a routine exam.
The new suggestion, "Screening for HIV in Health Care Settings: A
Guidance Statement from the American College of Physicians and HIV Medicine
Association," says HIV is major public health problem worldwide and that at
least 1 million people in the United States are infected.
However, up to 27% of them haven't been diagnosed, the ACP says. And it says
at least 20,000 new infections a year in the U.S. are because of transmission
of the virus from people who don't know they are infected.