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Wider testing for HIV-AIDS urged

Jul 20 2012

Widespread testing for HIV-AIDS could help eliminate the stigma and fear associated with the disease - and reduce infection rates, says James Boxshall of AIDS Vancouver Island.

"For us, any evidence-based approach to normalizing testing is a good thing in the long term," Boxshall said. "We struggle all the time with that stigma and fear."

Some medical experts in B.C. are calling for expanded HIV-AIDS testing to be part of a four-year pilot program funded by the province. They say that if everyone who has ever been sexually active agreed to be tested, it could be the beginning of the end for the disease.

Widespread testing could identify the approximately one per cent of people in B.C. who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but don't know it, said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of B.C.'s Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS.

That means they could be treated with an effective antiretroviral therapy that has been shown to dramatically reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to others.

"There are certainly people out there who are positive and don't know it," Boxshall said. "Symptoms are sometimes thought to be something else. Initially, the symptoms can be very, very mild."

A key part of widespread testing would be a new antibody test that produces results in about 30 seconds, eliminating the stressful waiting period.

It is vital that everyone knows that testing must be entirely voluntary, Boxshall said.

"I think people have the right to make the choice about what they get tested for and they have to be fully informed," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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