WASHINGTON — The Defense Department, intent on ensuring an AIDS-free military, said today it will launch an ambitious effort to find people who received blood from donors infected with the AIDS virus in the last 10 years.
Testing and counseling will be offered to recipients of infected blood, if any are found, "to reduce the risk of further transmission" of the disease, the Pentagon said.
Called the "Look-Back" program, the trace to 1977 will begin Monday and is intended to find people who have been infected unknowingly with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS.
It is estimated an individual could have been infected with AIDS for as long as 10 years before any symptoms of the full-blown disease show up, although in most cases the disease appears before then.
One method of transmitting HIV is through the transfusion of contaminated blood. There is no known cure for the disease.
200,000 Donate Annually
About 200,000 military personnel donate blood each year, and about 100 of them have tested positive for the HIV virus each of the last two years, said Lt. Col. Anthony Polk, the director of the program. The blood from those 200 donors has been discarded, he said.
Polk was unable to estimate how many people unknowingly may have been infected with tainted blood distributed through 125 military medical centers worldwide. But he said only 110 cases were found in the civilian blood program out of 12 million donations.
"The numbers we're looking at ought to be small," he said in a telephone interview.
No cases of infection through blood transfusions have shown up in the military, Polk said.