WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has decided that all 2.1 million active duty military personnel and recruits eventually will be tested for evidence of exposure to AIDS virus, Pentagon officials said Friday.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger made the decision following consultations with the civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the officials said.
The decision is the foundation of a policy yet to be framed within the Defense Department and is one the officials said they expect that will be announced "very soon."
Anyone found after testing to have an immune deficiency will be placed in a limited service status that has yet to be defined, according to the officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.
As an example of limited service, an official said the Navy might not send an individual with an immune deficiency on a tour of duty abroad.
The decision marks a major step by the Defense Department in trying to isolate the feared acquired immune deficiency syndrome, known as AIDS. The Pentagon has moved cautiously on the issue, in part because of concern that it would be charged by homosexual groups with discrimination .
Homosexuals have been identified as a high-risk AIDS group. AIDS destroys the body's ability to fight off diseases. There is no known cure. Testing detects antibodies, which are an indication that an individual has been exposed to the AIDS virus.
"We would expect that everyone coming into the military or who is in the military will be tested for the AIDS virus," a Pentagon official said.
Weinberger's decision expands on a present Pentagon program in which all new recruits, applicants for military service, active personnel headed for high-risk countries overseas and blood donors at military installations are being screened for immune deficiency.
The tests are a blood screening examination known as ELISA and the Western Blot test. Neither determines whether a person who has antibodies has contracted AIDS. However, a deficiency in the immune system indicates a possibility of developing AIDS or an AIDS-related disease.
"Those found to have an immune deficiency would require further medical evaluation and treatment," the official said.