WASHINGTON — Federal health officials have suggested that the AIDS epidemic may soon make it necessary for state health departments to maintain lists of those infected with the virus and to trace their sexual partners, as is done now with other sexually transmitted diseases.
The suggestions were contained in a Dec. 6 letter to state and territorial health officials from Dr. James O. Mason, director of the Centers for Disease Control, who also broached the idea that high-risk individuals be encouraged to undergo the blood-screening test that detects antibodies to HTLV-III, the virus that causes AIDS.
Charges of Bias
The suggestions will almost certainly be attacked by homosexual and civil rights groups, who are already concerned over alleged discrimination against AIDS victims who have been identified to insurance companies, employers and the military.
A spokesman for the CDC said that the purpose of Mason's letter was "to begin a dialogue, to see what their (health officials') thoughts are."
However, the CDC is considering releasing more specific recommendations addressing those issues.
"The main purpose of the additional testing discussed here would be to detect and counsel asymptomatic, infected persons who can transmit the infection to others and who might need additional medical evaluation," Mason wrote. "This is based on the assumption that such methods, implemented voluntarily among high-risk groups, would facilitate adoption of risk reduction behaviors among persons most likely to spread the infection."
Specifically, Mason's letter proposed that states "openly offer and encourage people to have voluntary . . . antibody testing and counseling" in clinics that treat sexually transmitted diseases, intravenous drug users and prostitutes. Further, he suggested that infected persons "refer their sex partners to appropriate sites" for testing.
Infected patients could receive "personalized counseling," Mason wrote, through a process similar to the one employed in routine control of sexually transmitted diseases.
Mason's letter said also that "we need to begin evaluating the implications of requiring some kind of reporting of positive . . . antibody tests results to the health department by public and private clinical laboratories."