Since January, Allegheny General Hospital has made it its mission to screen every patient in its Emergency Department for HIV.

The initiative is part of a joint and ongoing effort between the hospital and the Pennsylvania Expanded HIV Testing Initiative to incorporate routine HIV screening into clinical care.

Thus far, Allegheny General has tested 114 people and found no positive cases of HIV.  Patients can decline the test.

If the hospital does find an HIV positive patient with inadequate insurance, that patient may be able to get specialized treatment at the Positive Health Clinic at Allegheny General.

The Positive Health Clinic receives funding from the Heath Resources and Services Administration.

According to Positive Health Clinic Manager Mary Gallagher, HIV treatment costs in the “ballpark” of around $2,100 per month.

Early detection of the disease can decrease that cost.

“HIV is now considered a chronic disease. Treated properly, individuals can live a normal lifespan and continue an active work life,” said Gallagher.

“Untreated persons can become quite ill, involving lengthy, multiple hospitalizations and long-term or permanent disability.”

The screening, also called a reactive test, consists of an oral swab and makes results available within 20 minutes. If the screening comes back positive, more blood work is necessary to confirm the results.

June 5th marked the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the HIV virus and AIDS, but in the last 10 years cases of HIV in the United States have not decreased. 

The initiative at Allegheny General is part of a nation-wide effort to change that.

“Many people do not identify HIV as a health risk and do not seek testing … [and] very few primary care practices routinely test for HIV,” said Gallagher.

“For these reasons, many individuals are HIV positive for many years before they are tested, and have unknowingly infected others.” 

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Allegheny County is one of the highest risk areas for HIV and AIDS in Pennsylvania, second to Philadelphia County.

Pennsylvania is ranked seventh in the nation for HIV cases, according to profiles compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. New York is ranked first.

Gallagher said that most cities have higher rates of disease because of population density.

Within Allegheny County, she also said that “men who have sex with men are most at risk” for the disease.

There are many places to get tested for HIV in Pittsburgh. Interested people can find the testing site nearest them at the National HIV and STD Testing Resources website at www.hivtest.org.

Jeanette Lee is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying Professional Writing and Investigative Journalism.