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Push to make HIV tests more common

WASHINGTON -- There's a new push to make testing for the AIDS virus as common as cholesterol checks.

Americans from ages 15 to 64 should get an HIV test at least once -- not just people considered at high risk for the virus, an independent panel that sets screening guidelines proposed yesterday.

The draft guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are the latest recommendations that aim to make HIV screening a routine part of a checkup. Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has pushed for widespread, routine HIV screening.

Still, of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, nearly 1 in 5 -- almost 240,000 people -- don't know it. Not only is their own health at risk without treatment, they could unwittingly be spreading the virus to others.

The updated guidelines will bring this long-simmering issue before doctors and their patients again -- emphasizing that public health experts agree on how important it is to test even people who don't think they're at risk, because they could be.

"It allows you to say, 'This is a recommended test that we believe everybody should have. We're not singling you out in any way,' " said task force member Dr. Douglas Owens, of Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

And if finalized, the task force guidelines could extend the number of people eligible for an HIV screening without a co-pay in their doctor's office, as part of free preventive care under the Obama administration's health care law. Under the task force's previous guidelines, only people at increased risk for HIV -- which includes gay and bisexual men and injecting drug users -- were eligible for that no-copay screening.

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