Vanderbilt's Emergency Department to begin testing all adult patients for HIV

By Bill Snyder

This month, Vanderbilt University Medical Center will begin routine and rapid HIV testing of all adults seen in the Emergency Department unless they “opt out” of the procedure.

The testing is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to detect HIV infections earlier and get more people into follow-up care. According to the CDC, 40,000 new HIV infections occur annually in the United States. A quarter of these people don’t know they are infected.

Under contract with the Tennessee Department of Health, Vanderbilt will receive $62,526 in federal funds this year to launch a rapid testing program in Nashville. The tests of cells swabbed painlessly from inside the mouth can yield results within 20 minutes.

Vanderbilt officials estimate that 1 percent of tests will be positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. That translates to about 200 people testing positive in the Vanderbilt ED every six months.

“The ability to know a person’s status in 20 minutes increases the likelihood of getting that person connected to medical care, and significantly improving medical outcomes for those infected with HIV,” said Jamie Russell, director of HIV/AIDS/STD prevention services for the State Health Department.

In addition to Vanderbilt, the department has contracted with several other health organizations in Nashville and Memphis to implement testing programs and provide follow-up services for people who test positive.

Leading the Vanderbilt effort are Keith Wrenn, M.D., professor and vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine, and Stephen Raffanti, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Medicine and chief medical officer of the Comprehensive Care Center in Nashville, which provides outpatient medical services to people with HIV/AIDS.

While the initial grant will end in September, the testing programs may be continued in the next fiscal year depending upon the availability of federal funds, Russell said. 

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