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Effectiveness of ER HIV testing evaluated

July 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The goal of rapid HIV testing in emergency rooms is to save lives and prevent the spread of HIV. Since 2006, the government has directed ER doctors to routinely test patients admitted to the ER unless they decline screening. The idea is to catch the disease early, but new research finds this program isn't doing what you might expect.Stewart Thomas is living his life with HIV. He was diagnosed in 1986 and knows the importance of being tested.

"If you have the opportunity to get tested for HIV, and there are so many different places that you can test for free, why wouldn't someone want to find out more information about their health?" asked Thomas.

That's exactly the thought behind a recently new government program. For four years now, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended rapid HIV screening in emergency departments and other health care settings.

In a report provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Denver researchers set out to evaluate the effectiveness of this kind of testing.

"It's a rapid test you'll get it back during your emergency department visit today," said Denver Health Medical Center Dr. Jason Haukoos.

The hope was rapid testing would identify a great number of HIV infected patients who otherwise slip through the cracks. But that's not what they found.

"This actually flies a little bit in the face of what the CDC recommendations call for because they are calling for relatively widespread testing in this particular setting using this particular approach," said Dr. Haukoos. "It turns out that it didn't work probably quite as well as everyone hoped."

The other hope: routine screening would identify patients earlier in their disease.

"In our study the majority of patients identified with newly diagnosed HIV infection were found late in their disease course effectively aids defined."

While the results may be disappointing, proponents of testing believe even identifying a few more people can save some lives. Stewart says with the proper treatment. HIV can be managed.

"I like working. I have a great set of friends," said Thomas. "I'm living my life with HIV."

Researchers also found that routine opt- out HIV testing had no impact on the care of emergency room patients.


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