Health care research team calls for all pregnant women--not just those identified as at-risk--to be screened for HIV.

July 6, 2005 -- Pregnant women undergo a number of screenings as part of their standard prenatal care, such as urinalysis, ultrasound, and blood tests. Currently, testing for HIV is not one of them, but this may soon change.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts that systematically develops medical guidelines to help the entire family, issued a new recommendation calling for all pregnant women to be screened for HIV?not just those identified as at risk. Published in the July 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the latest proposal calling for broader screening is an update to the task force's 1996 guidelines, and is based on recent evidence indicating prenatal counseling and HIV testing strategies may dramatically reduce the chances that an infected mother will transmit HIV to her infant.

In fact, pregnant women who receive treatment can reduce the chance of their infants being HIV positive to as low as 1 percent, as opposed to 25 percent of infants born to mothers who aren't treated during pregnancy, according to the panel.

Treatment includes combination drug therapies taken during pregnancy that have been found safe for both mothers and infants. In addition, elective cesarean section and avoidance of breastfeeding have been shown to further reduce the chances of a woman's passing HIV to her infant.

Although the number of cases of babies born with HIV has declined sharply in the U.S. since the early 1990s, the panel estimates between 280 and 370 infants are born with the virus each year.

"In my practice, I recommend that all pregnant women get tested for HIV," says Parents adviser and OB-GYN Dr. Hilda Hutcherson. "In fact, I recommend that all women planning to conceive get an HIV test during their prenatal counseling visit. There are no symptoms associated with early HIV infection, and we know that any woman can become infected. Because there are medications that can protect the baby while in utero, it is a act of love for every pregnant woman to get tested during--or before--pregnancy."

The USPSTF is part of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHRQ sponsors and conducts its research to benefit patients and healthcare providers.

What do you think of these recommended guidelines? Would you want to see an HIV test as a common part of prenatal exams (any way we can help babies not be born with HIV is good) or do you think that this needn't be a standard test (reserved for high risk category patients only)? Share your thoughts on our message board below:

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