The USPSTF calls for routine HIV screening for all ages
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently released new recommended screening guidelines for HIV. It gave a grade A recommendation for routine HIV screening for everybody aged 15 to 65, and younger adolescents and older adults at an increased risk for HIV infection. It also gave a grade A recommendation for HIV screening for all pregnant women, including those in labor whose HIV status is not known.
What Is Grade A?
Many health organizations, professional societies and medical quality review groups use USPSTF’s recommendations to make decisions about their clinical standards. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), private health insurance policies created after March 23, 2010, are required to offer all preventive services that have been given an A or B recommendation by USPSTF, at no out-of-pocket cost to the consumer. ACA also gives state Medicaid programs financial incentives to cover USPSTF-recommended preventive services for adults.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says roughly 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV. Because HIV infection does not usually cause symptoms in its early stage, many people (about one in five) who are HIV positive are unaware they are infected, making them more likely to transmit the virus their sexual partners. According to the CDC, nearly 50 percent of all new HIV infections are transmitted by people unaware they are infected. This is especially critical in the black community, where nearly 100,000 were unaware of their HIV status in 2009.
The Benefits of Knowing Your Status
Once identified by screening, the hope is that HIV-infected folks can begin antiretroviral therapy, adhere to treatment and achieve full viral load suppression (no detectable virus in the blood). A suppressed viral load means better health outcomes for infected people, as well as less chance of infecting partners.
Under the new guidelines, HIV screening will be easier for medical staff since they will no longer need to find out a patient’s risk status before offering testing.
Routine testing will also help reduce the proportion of late HIV diagnoses. One-third of people with HIV are diagnosed so long after they acquire their infection that they develop AIDS—the final stage of HIV disease—within one year of diagnosis. They could have been HIV positive for as long as 10 years before being diagnosed and unable to take advantage of HIV treatment.