Many of us believe HIV and AIDS are two diseases that are restricted to certain groups in our society. It’s true: some people are more at risk for the virus than others — just like with any other disease. However, this doesn’t mean that just because you are not in one of these categories, you are safe.
It’s extremely sad that the stigma of AIDS in our society has likely contributed to its spread. But now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is attempting to remedy the situation with some new testing guidelines.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is an immune system disorder caused by a virus known as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The virus attacks the Body’s immune system, which is what normally fights off invading organisms, such as viruses and infections, and protects you from some diseases such as cancer.
Once HIV has weakened the immune system (this is what is termed as AIDS), this leaves a person dangerously vulnerable to many different illnesses. It’s important to remember that a person can have HIV, but not be afflicted with AIDS, which means that his/her immune system is (currently) unaffected by the virus.
According to the CDC, it’s estimated that between 1,039,000 and 1,185,000 people in the U.S. were living with HIV/AIDS in 2003, with 24% to 27% of them being unaware that they were infected. In 2004, approximately 944,305 people were diagnosed with AIDS. These numbers are staggering.
Within the context of this article, the most important number is the percentage of people who do not know that they have the virus, and so might be unknowingly spreading it through the population.
This is where the CDC’s new plan, supported by the American Medical Association, comes in. Until now, health officials have only recommended routine testing for people considered to be high-risk, such as IV drug users, and for all pregnant women. However, it looks like things could change dramatically in the near future.
The CDC has released some updated guidelines, suggesting that all U.S. patients be given an HIV test as part of the standard tests they receive when they go to a hospital or clinic for urgent or emergency care. Or, the test could be made part of a person’s regular checkup with his/her family doctor.
By making HIV testing as routine as getting your blood pressure checked or screening your cholesterol levels, the CDC hopes to provide better access to diagnosis and, ultimately, care for people infected with the virus. These types of guidelines, while not yet mandated by law, do have an influence on medical care and health insurance coverage.
Even though there might be some difficulties putting these recommendations into action, the fact is that by making HIV testing routine, we might be able to put a stop to the spread of AIDS.