WASHINGTON — Local public health officers, meeting to advise the U.S. Conference of Mayors on how to deal with the spreading AIDS epidemic, will recommend today against using quarantines and the tracing of sexual partners to control the disease at this time, officials of the organization said Tuesday.
"They are not effective public health measures," said Dr. Charles Konigsberg Jr., health program supervisor for Broward County, Fla., and chairman of the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Local Health Officers.
As for "contact tracing" of sexual partners, he said, you cannot "break the chain of infection. With syphilis, you can treat the case and the contact. With measles, you can treat the case and immunize the population. You can't do that with AIDS. There is no vaccine. There is no treatment."
The group, representing communities nationwide, will also urge the mayors to support the idea of anonymity--or at least strict confidentiality--for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies, officials said.
In addition, the organization agreed that a positive test should not be classified as a "reportable" condition. Private physicians, the group said, should not be required to report positive antibody tests to public health officials, for example, as they now must do with cases of AIDS and certain other diseases.
"The information is not translatable into public health action," Konigsberg said. "If you're not going to use it for a public health purpose, it shouldn't be done."
However, the organization is expected to encourage wider use of the test among high-risk groups. The procedure, known as the ELISA test, first was introduced last year to screen donations to the country's blood banks. At that time, alternative test sites were established so that those in high-risk groups, such as homosexual men, would refrain from donating blood and have it tested instead.
Use of Test Shunned
Gay rights groups and others have discouraged use of the test, but Konigsberg said his group believes that alternative test sites provided "an avenue for one-on-one education--and education, thus far, is the best way of preventing AIDS."
The group will also ask the mayors to support increased education efforts, with new, "innovative" programs aimed at intravenous drug users, which Konigsberg described as "a difficult population to reach."
The quarantine issue recently created a controversy in Texas, where state health officials last week withdrew a plan that would have permitted health authorities to quarantine AIDS victims who refused to curtail sexual activity. The proposal had been strenuously opposed by gay rights groups, clergymen and civil rights activists, who said that it would result in the refusal of AIDS patients to seek treatment.
Tuesday's recommendation said that quarantines have "no known effective application" in reducing the transmission of AIDS "at this time."
"We did not deal with issues of civil rights," Konigsberg said. "We all know we operate in a political climate, but we were all here to talk professionally."
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the body's immune system, leaving it powerless against otherwise rare infections. It is transmitted through intimate sexual contact and the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles.
Those at highest risk include male homosexuals and bisexuals, intravenous drug users and their steady sexual partners. As of Monday, there were 16,574 reported cases and 8,423 deaths.