ATLANTA, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Four in 10 people, most at high risk
for AIDS, are not tested for the disease until years after
being infected, researchers reported Tuesday.
Failure to treat patients in a timely manner, government
researchers said at the National HIV Prevention Conference,
results in patients not getting treatment until they begin to
suffer symptoms of the disease, and it also may mean the
patient unknowingly is spreading AIDS through contact with
"It takes about 10 years for signs of disease to occur," said
Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center
for HIV, STD and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
Human immunodeficiency virus causes acquired immune deficiency
syndrome. In a study presented at the conference, Leo Hurley, a
researcher at Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif., reported 40
percent of patients diagnosed with AIDS were first tested
within a year of coming down with illnesses that characterize
long-standing infection with HIV.
About one in five patients -- 18 percent -- were tested and had
an AIDS-defining illness almost simultaneously, within one
month, Hurley said. About 30 percent were tested within three
months of developing disease symptoms and 34 percent were
tested less than six months from the time of receiving an AIDS
"About half the patients sought an AIDS test because they were
feeling ill," Hurley said. He noted when diagnosed, about half
of the patients already had shown evidence of a compromised
immune system, marked by depletion of CD4-positive cells. Lack
of these cells means the body cannot fight off opportunistic
infections, the hallmarks of AIDS. Eighty percent who were
diagnosed with AIDS fell into high-risk categories: they were
men who had sex with men or were injecting drug users or both.
Valdiserri said patients with many diseases, including heart
disease and cancer, often are diagnosed late in the course of
their illness, which makes them more difficult to treat. But
patients with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic
illnesses are not infectious, Valdiserri said, whereas people
with HIV can pass the virus along to partners during sex or
when sharing needles for illicit drug use.
"It is precisely because we are dealing with a deadly
transmissible virus that early detection is needed," Valdiserri
"The potential benefits of early detection and treatment are
clear," Hurley said. "Further transmission can be prevented,
immune function can be preserved and disease-free survival can
Valdiserri said barriers to testing on the physician's side
include taking the time to counsel a patient regarding testing,
bringing up a potentially embarrassing subject -- sexual
activity or drug use -- with patients and the lack of
reimbursement for the time spent counseling.
He said patients may object to testing because of the stigma
associated with AIDS and because of fear of the test result.
Hurley, in his study, reviewed the medical records of 434
patients diagnosed with AIDS in 1998. He tracked their
treatments and tests for five years. He said Kaiser Permanente
is attempting to use the results of the study to enable
timelier testing of patients.