"Baltimore doctors push for routine HIV testing" (In Focus, WMAR-ABC2) August 14, 2014

Baltimore doctors push for routine HIV testing

BALTIMORE - It's a disease that claimed millions of lives all over the world and here at home in Baltimore we've seen our fair share of cases, ranking our city as one of the top in the country for HIV cases.

With about 13,000 people diagnosed with the virus in the city Health Department officials are getting creative with a program that could turn those numbers around.

It's called Protect Baltimore.

"We're hoping to do this as part of the routine screening," Dr. Anuradha Reddy said.

She's asking her patients if they want to get screened for HIV.

"I think if it starts in the physicians’ office they do accept to get tested," she said.

That's the hope of the Baltimore City Health departments new initiative.....Protect Baltimore.

"We've done a lot of testing with targeted testing now we need to make it more generally applied to the common person."

Following new Centers for Disease Control recommendations Acting Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Patrick Chaulk says they're trying to test everyone and anyone ages 13 to 65.

"We're finding people who are not fitting the regular risk profile who wind up becoming HIV positive, when we check into their background. So we're at a point now where the epidemic is moving into different portions of the population and this availability of testing and counseling needs to be part of routine healthcare."

Howard Abegesah's job is to get the doctors on board. So far the Health Department worker has signed up about a dozen practices.

He comes armed with the information to help doctors and their patients to understand.

"Whether they're high risk or not, we do this to help keep our patients healthy," he said.

There are about 13,000 diagnosed cases of HIV in Baltimore but its estimated nationally that about 20 percent of people who are infected don't know they're infected.

Overall the numbers of new infections are coming down.

"You can't just keep with only what you've had in the past you have to keep up with how the epidemic is changing," Reddy said.

Reddy says her older patients have been more willing.

"You never know who your partner was with, so it's best to be sure to check to look out for number one," one woman said.

The past president of the Baltimore City Medical Society believes once physicians understand the program, they will support it.

"Let's not live in the dark ages. Let’s be real. Take the test and there's one more thing that we can check off to say I know that I'm OK."

The hope is to expand the initiative and some physicians hope to one day make the screening a requirement and not just a CDC recommendation.

Testing and treatment of HIV has come a long way since it first appeared as a deadly virus in the 1980s.

Dr. Robert Gallo knows the strides that have been made first hand – because he helped discover it.

"What we learned from epidemiologist in 1981, 1982 that risk factors were having promiscuous sex, were being born of certain mothers that didn't know it was a virus or being exposed to blood," Gallo said.

Gallo currently works at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

In his early years, he worked at the National Cancer Institute.

He wanted to find a cure for cancer – his inspiration was the death of his 5-year-old sister from childhood leukemia. It was during his cancer research that Gallo was led to the discovery of the retrovirus for HIV.

"In 1984 we were able to say we've got enough data,” Gallo said. This is the cause. We have a blood test. We can protect the blood supply. We can follow the epidemic for the first time."

In the 30 years since the discovery, more than 30 million people have died from AIDS.

Drugs can slow the progression of AIDS, but Gallo is working on a functional cure.

Researchers in his lab have a vaccine headed for clinical trials.

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