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AIDS testing for (almost) everyone? Absolutely.

November 20, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • An oral swab used to test for HIV.
An oral swab used to test for HIV. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is calling for doctors to test most people ages 15 to 64, whether they fall in high-risk groups or not, for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. I see only one thing wrong with this proposal: We should have started doing it years ago. Decades ago.

Admittedly, it's in more recent years that medicine has learned that treatment for HIV is more successful when it starts earlier rather than later. But long before we had any effective treatments for HIV infection, it was clear that if people knew they had AIDS, they could and usually would take steps to avoid infecting others, through safer-sex measures and the like.

For a long time, society's distaste for the factors most commonly associated with infection -- sex among gay males, sex with multiple partners and intravenous drug use -- kept people from seeking out testing, fearing they would be seen as immoral. Doctors didn't dare even suggest it in many cases.

Time to get over that. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a fifth of people in the United States who have HIV don't know it. It doesn't matter whether they fall into the traditional high-risk groups or not, whether parents think their children are staying away from sexual intercourse or whether the person is a grandmother or grandfather. They all should be treated, and they all should learn to protect others from being infected. Think of the suffering that could have been avoided, and the lives (and money) that would have been saved, if we'd gotten over prudish attitudes a long time ago.

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