GW Hospital offers free HIV screening due to high rates in D.C.

Almost all inpatients are now being screened for HIV in the Emergency Department at GW Hospital.

Since September, GW Hospital has offered 15,000 incoming emergency room patients free HIV screening tests, and about 60 percent of these patients agreed to participate and got tested, according to Student Health Services.

New Centers for Disease Control regulations require than an emergency room screening program be in place at GW Hospital because the hospital is located in a city where the incidence of HIV is greater than one in 1,000 people. However, GW Hospital is the only local Emergency Department that has adopted the program thus far.

“We implemented the new requirements of the CDC,” said Jeremy Brown, director of Research and Emergency Medicine at the GW Hospital. “We screen everybody unless they don’t want it.”

Under the new CDC guidelines, anyone aged 13 to 64 entering the emergency room that is not known to be HIV positive will be offered the free test. There’s one stipulation: patients must be able to refuse the screening. Those who enter the emergency room inebriated, of abnormal mental state or without the ability to speak will not be tested.

A Student Health Services statistic cites an estimated 42,000 people infected with HIV within the city.

Funding for the HIV test kits used at GW Hospital is provided by the D.C. Department of Health, which hopes to increase detection of the virus in the city. Doctors in the Emergency Department at the hospital simply swab the gums of patients to test them for HIV, and patients receive results in about 20 minutes. A traditional HIV testing method uses blood samples and it takes three to four days to receive the results of this test.

“The new tests are very sensitive, but they’re not 100 percent,” Brown said. “Three in 1,000 tests were false negatives. In 1,000 tests, four will be inaccurate. This is fairly new technology.”

Test results that read HIV positive are followed up with blood tests for confirmation purposes.

Susan Haney, aclinical program coordinator at Student Health Services pointed out that emergency room patients at the GW Hospital aren’t the only ones that will benefit from the Department of Health’s funding for this program.

“Because of D.C. Health, students (at GW) can get free testing, but they are charged $20 per clinic visit,” Haney said. “We hope to have outreach events during non-clinic hours, and throughout the year, we will partner with student organizations for totally free testing.”

Free HIV testing for students has been a long-time goal of the Student Global AIDS Campaign student organization. Prior to the implementation of the D.C. Department of Health program this September, SGAC attempted to provide one or two free testing days per semester at the Marvin Center.

“On these days we always had to turn people away,” said Lindsay Wheeler, the chapter leader of GW’s SGAC organization.

The D.C. Department of Health campaign may extend to require routine HIV tests for patients on any doctor visit. Specifics on this and the duration of funding have not been announced.

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