April 30, 2003
"Routine testing cuts away from the prevention message that is still so important to get out," said Rick Reich, the communicable disease and AIDS services supervisor at the Clark County, Nev., Health District. CDC officials still say counseling is important, but they do not want the education component to deter people from getting tested. They concluded the counseling requirement might have kept busy doctors from providing tests and can make getting tested a tedious process for patients.
Local HIV specialist Dr. Jerry Cade estimates there are about 2,000 Las Vegans who have HIV and do not know it. There are approximately 5,000 HIV/AIDS patients in Nevada, with 4,000 of those patients living in Clark County, according to Reich and the Nevada State Health Division. Approximately 225 new HIV cases are reported each year in Clark County.
Cade favors the new guidelines so long as patients still get HIV prevention education. "We still have a bunch of people walking around who don't know they are positive, and in this day and age, that's a shame," Cade said. "We've got treatment options now, and if we can get them diagnosed and into treatment, HIV is not necessarily the death sentence it once was."
The new recommendations urge doctors, health officials, social workers and counselors to use new rapid testing kits in offices, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers and STD clinics. The kits can provide results in 20 minutes. But they only provide a preliminary result, which means that patients who test positive would still need another test to confirm the diagnosis.
Reich said the rapid test may be helpful when testing people who do not usually come back for test results, such as the homeless, but that those people will still have to get a confirmation test done if the results are positive.
CDC officials say the new guidelines are an attempt to find and diagnose the estimated 200,000 people living with HIV in the United States who are unaware they have the disease.