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Pittsburgh City Council supports effort to encourage HIV testing during doctor visits

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 1:06 p.m.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, center, announces an effort Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, to push for HIV tests during routine doctor visits.

Testing for HIV is simple, quick and affordable, yet 20 percent of Allegheny County residents infected with the disease are unaware they have it.

In an effort to help solve that problem, Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday introduced a resolution urging health care providers to encourage HIV testing during routine doctor visits. The non-biding measure was introduced with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force in conjunction with World AIDS Day, which is Thursday.

Flanked by Doctors Gordon Liu and Deborah McMahon of UPMC and nurse practitioner Stuart Fisk of Allegheny Health Network, Councilman Corey O'Connor of Swisshelm Park said the testing is needed.

“That is a scary thought that people are walking around not knowing that they have a disease,” O'Connor said. “What we are encouraging the governor and the Department of Health to do today is have each and every person, no matter who you are, checked and tested on a regular checkup when you go to the doctor's office.”

McMahon, who is medical director for UPMC's Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment Clinic, said a positive HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence and early detection and treatment can help prevent the onset of severe complications. She encouraged all adults to have at least one HIV test during their lifetimes.

“If your doctor hasn't asked you to consider having a test, take the initiative and ask them to give you a test,” she said.

There are 2,830 people living with HIV in Allegheny County, according to the state Department of Health's annual HIV Surveillance summary report. There are 175 in Westmoreland County, the report states.

On a national basis, about 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and 14 percent are unaware of their status, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A test probably ranges between $8 and $12 and the insurance reimbursement cost is generally higher, said Fisk, who is director of operations for the Center for Inclusion Health of Allegheny Health Network. Many agencies offer free HIV testing.

“So there really is no reason why a person should not get an HIV test,” he said.

Since 2008, the CDC has recommended that visitors to primary care doctors, regardless of risk factors, be offered HIV testing as part of preventative care.

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