Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should the HIV Threat Be Treated like Other Infectious Diseases?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Should the HIV Threat Be Treated like Other Infectious Diseases?

Article excerpt

In the short period since the first cases of the disease were recognized in 198 1, more than 350,000 Americans have died of AIDS. Only 16 years later, nearly 1 million individuals in the United States are believed to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than 40,000 new infections are estimated to occur each year. Clearly, this is an epidemic of historic proportions that is out of control.

In many ways, the response by the federal government and the public-health community has contributed to the growth of the epidemic. From the onset of the disease, proven medical and public-health practices that were successful in helping to curtail other contagious diseases were abandoned in favor of political correctness. It was decided that HIV would be treated as a civil-rights issue instead of a public-health crisis. As a result, our response has been based almost exclusively on the rights of those infected to the detriment of the uninfected.

A test to detect HIV has been available for more than a decade, but the medical community has been forbidden to use it for routine testing. This is the result of an agreement made when the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approved the test in 1985. Under the guise of privacy, the agency gave in to pressure from gay-rights organizations and limited the routine use of the test for screening by blood banks. Therefore, in the course of a physical examination, a doctor is prohibited from conducting a routine HIV test. No other disease is given protection against diagnosis.

AIDS activists also convinced lawmakers that any form of nonconsensual testing is a civil-rights violation. Because of this, our laws have prevented sexual-assault victims from the right to learn the HIV status of their attackers, even though studies have indicated that treatment immediately following HIV exposure significantly can reduce the chance of infection. According to the AIDS Action Council, which claims to be the nation's leading AIDS-advocacy organization, "Rape and sexual-assault survivors need to take care of themselves and not concentrate on the HIV status of their assailants."

In short, our national AIDS/HIV policy relies solely on individuals submitting to voluntary testing and, if infected, taking the necessary steps themselves to prevent others from becoming infected. Never before in medical history have we given the responsibility of controlling an epidemic to the individuals infected with the disease.

This nontraditional approach has put the public's health at risk and done nothing to curtail the epidemic. The fact that half of the nearly I million people believed to be infected with HIV in the United States are unaware of their status is proof enough that our AIDS/HIV policies have failed. As a result of this failure, hundreds of thousands are being denied medical care and unintentionally and unknowingly infecting others.

While no cure exists for HIV infection, we do know enough about the virus to prevent its spread, but we have failed to do so. I have introduced legislation -- the HIV Prevention Act -- which would implement the public-health practices that have been successful in helping curtail the spread of other infectious diseases. These include both disease reporting and partner notification.

Reporting is necessary so scientists may study and assess diseases. It enables those responsible for disease control to determine more accurately the extent of an epidemic, rates of progression, direction of spread, possible changes in transmissibility and other critical factors of disease control. This information allows for the development of long-term strategies based on reliable data and the development of effective and targeted prevention-education messages. Currently, more than 50 diseases, including AIDS, are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Because we have based our assumptions on AIDS -- the latter stage of the disease -- rather than HIV infection, our nation has been unable adequately to deal with the epidemic. …

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