February 8, 2008

ED to test adults for AIDS virus infection

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Members of the Conn research group include (front row, from left) Colleen Niswender, Ph.D., Jeff Conn, Ph.D., Alice Rodriguez, Ph.D., (back row, from left) Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., David Weaver, Ph.D., and Carrie Jones, Ph.D. (photo by Neil Brake)

ED to test adults for AIDS virus infection

This month, Vanderbilt University Medical Center will begin routine and rapid HIV testing of all adults seen in the Emergency Department unless they “opt out” of the procedure.

The testing is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to detect HIV infections earlier and get more people into follow-up care. According to the CDC, 40,000 new HIV infections occur annually in the United States. A quarter of these people don't know they are infected.

Under contract with the Tennessee Department of Health, Vanderbilt will receive $62,526 in federal funds this year to launch a rapid testing program in Nashville. The tests of cells swabbed painlessly from inside the mouth can yield results within 20 minutes.

Vanderbilt officials estimate that that 1 percent of tests will be positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. That translates to about 200 people testing positive in the Vanderbilt ED every six months.

“The ability to know a person's status in 20 minutes increases the likelihood of getting that person connected to medical care, and significantly improving medical outcomes,” said Jamie Russell, director of HIV/AIDS/STD prevention services for the State Health Department.

Leading the Vanderbilt effort are Keith Wrenn, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, and Stephen Raffanti, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer of the Comprehensive Care Center in Nashville, which provides out-patient medical services to people with HIV/AIDS.

While the initial grant will end in September, the testing programs may be continued in the next fiscal year depending upon the availability of federal funds, Russell said.