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May 12, 2009

Routine Emergency Room HIV Testing Increases New Diagnoses

An early 2007 mandate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase HIV testing nationwide has influenced several U.S emergency rooms to test patients for the virus, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. CDC officials said the testing program might partially explain the 15 percent jump in the total number of new HIV cases reported in 2007, from 37,000 to 42,600.

“I can’t say that it’s all due to emergency-room testing, but it’s certainly suggestive that that’s what’s occurring,” said Bernard Branson, MD, an associate director with the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “We’re finding the positives who are out there, and that’s what’s most important.”

According to the article, health officials are using emergency rooms to reach patients who might not have insurance and who consider ERs as their primary medical facility. In the past year, San Francisco General Hospital’s ER has seen 50 patients who had come in for a separate illness and were surprised to learn that they tested positive for HIV. Since it began expanding its HIV testing in 2006, JPS Health Network hospital in Forth Worth, Texas, has seen a fourfold increase of HIV-positive patients.

Glenn Raup, MD, former senior executive director of Emergency and Trauma Services at JPS Health Network hospital, said the sites were able to lessen the stigma of getting tested by coupling their testing efforts with other hospital-sponsored HIV awareness programs.

“When [patients] came into the ER, their desire to be tested was increasing,” Raup said. “There were fewer reticent patients [by 2008], which told us that awareness must be increasing, because more people understood the need for it and accepted it.”

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