Teenagers and adults aged 15 to 65 should receive universal HIV screening to prevent the spread of infection and to get those who are infected into treatment faster, according to new recommendations from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF).
The task force also found all pregnant women should be screened for HIV, including women who are in labor but whose HIV status is unknown.
According to University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Timothy Schacker, M.D., the recommendations could be a positive step in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“I agree with the recommendations, primarily because the reality is that a large number of people infected with HIV don’t know they’re infected,” he said. “As a result, this group continues to pass the virus on to others, which has significant public health issues. There’s also growing recognition that earlier treatment translates into a better clinical outcome and drug toxicity isn’t as much of an issue as it was even just a few years ago.”
The ability to effectively treat HIV patients to the point where the condition has largely become a chronic disease played a role in shifting the USPSTF toward universal screening recommendations. The USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts who provide recommendations for health care providers based on reviews of clinical research.
“The Task Force found that although there is no cure for HIV infection, treating people with HIV earlier can not only reduce their risk of developing AIDS and delay its onset, but it also decreases the chance that they will pass on the infection to someone else. Treating pregnant women also reduces the chances that the virus will be transmitted to their babies,” the group said in a press release.
More than 50,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. According to Schacker, an internationally-recognized expert on how HIV causes immune suppression, the entire field is still seeking the best approach to minimizing risk of infection across the greater population.
“The whole strategy for prevention is changing,” he said, “and not everyone agrees on the best path forward. For example some have advocated for giving people at risk for HIV daily medication that will help prevent infection. Others advocate for universal screening so we can get those infected into treatment faster while protecting others. Things are more complex when you take into account that we still lack an effective HIV or AIDS vaccine.”
Last month, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases halted the latest trial seeking an AIDS vaccine after a monitoring board found trial participants who had received the test vaccine became infected regardless and didn’t have less of the virus in their blood.