Researchers at Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Yale University have shown that routine screening for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, could increase survival, prevent transmission of the disease, and be done at reasonable cost.
The study was prompted in part by the fact that despite current recommendations of HIV screening in high-risk populations, roughly 280,000 Americans are thought to be unaware that they are infected with the virus.
That lack of knowledge, combined with what is typically a long period before symptoms appear, create conditions favorable for the virus to spread.
The study, described in the Feb.10 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, shows that frequent HIV screening in moderate- to high-risk populations could produce life expectancy gains at costs that compare favorably to those achieved by screening programs for other common diseases and conditions, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
The study echoes similar findings by a team of researchers from the Veterans Affairs health care system, and Duke and Stanford universities that employed different data and methods and reached similar conclusions.
“In today’s environment of rapidly rising health care costs, we should emphasize medical interventions that provide health improvements at an acceptable cost,” said Milton Weinstein, a study co-author from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Periodic HIV testing of people at high to moderate risk is as cost-effective as many clinical services that Americans take for granted, such as mammograms and cholesterol tests.”