Should HIV testing be mandatory? Learn about Texas's bold experiment.

On December 1st, Texas introduced legislation that will be a bold step in the right direction in the fight against AIDS.  The proposed law would require that blood drawn as part of any routine medical testing be screened for HIV unless the patient opts out.  The bill is based upon recommendations from the Center for Disease Control in 2006 that HIV testing be a routine part of health care for persons between the ages of 13 and 64.

What is the benefit of this new law?  To begin with, it is estimated that more than 20 percent of people living with HIV are unaware of it and one out of three receive a late diagnosis, according to the estimates of the Center for Disease Control.  This means, for example, that in Texas alone there are about 15,000 Texans infected with HIV, but do not know it.  Those who are diagnosed many times receive the diagnosis after years of living with HIV.

The knowledge of HIV provides an opportunity to prevent further transmission.  When HIV victims are diagnosed, they tend to take steps to protect their partners.  Persons living with HIV are also less likely to infect others if they're on treatment that lowers the amount of virus in their system.  Hence, the early diagnosis and treatment of HIV are important to reducing new HIV infections.

Late diagnosis of HIV has also been connected to premature death and higher treatment costs.  Early diagnosis of HIV and effective treatment at an early stage can lower the viral load and that alone can reduce the transmission rate.  Furthermore, mandatory HIV testing as part of routine medical tests removes the stigma from HIV/AIDS testing and makes HIV testing as commonplace as getting a physical or a flu shot.

Texas already requires that people being released from prison and entering prison be tested for HIV.  This is a form of testing for persons considered "high risk" for HIV.  Why limit the benefits of HIV testing to prisoners?

In September, 2010, New York became the first state to require health care professionals to offer the HIV test to all patients between the age of 13 and 64.  However, the Texas legislation takes one more step in the right direction by making HIV testing mandatory for all routine medical tests, unless the patient opts out.

Mandatory HIV testing at least once a year as part of routine medical testing will substantially cut into the high rates of undiagnosed and late diagnosed HIV infection.  This is a win-win for patients and a no-brainer for the state of Texas.
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