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Federal panel
urges all pregnant women to be screened for HIV

Federal panel
urges all pregnant women to be screened for HIV

A federal panel is recommending that all pregnant women, not just those considered at high risk, be screened for HIV antibodies because testing has proved so successful in helping to prevent the spread of the disease to babies. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in 1996 that there was insufficient evidence that screening all pregnant women had any benefit. But the independent panel of medical experts said in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine that scientific advances have changed that.

"We're hoping that this will encourage women to think of HIV testing during pregnancy the way they think of all other testing during pregnancy," said Diana Petitti, the task force's vice chair and a scientific adviser for Health Policy and Medicine for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. HIV-positive pregnant women can be given combination drug therapies, have cesarean sections, or avoid breast-feeding to help keep their babies safe--reducing the transmission risk to as low as 1%, the task force said. Otherwise, infected women have a one-in-four chance of passing HIV on to their babies. Of the 4.7 million women hospitalized for pregnancy or childbirth in 2002, nearly 6,300 were HIV-positive.

Other groups urged by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to engage in regular, voluntary HIV antibody testing include men who've had sex with men after 1975, anyone with multiple sex partners, anyone being treated for a sexually transmitted disease, current or former injection drug users, people who exchange sex for money or drugs, and people who had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985. (AP, with additional reporting by

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