With a new law now in place requiring that HIV tests routinely be offered to all New Yorkers between the ages of 13 to 64, health providers here in the city and across the state are already preparing for a surge of new cases. NY1's Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates more than 100,000 people in New York City are infected, but about one in five don't know their status. With changes in the HIV testing law, health officials and providers expect see an influx of newly identified cases and they say that's the whole idea.
"Over a quarter of the people in New York City are already identified when they have advanced to AIDS. That means for the time from the time they are infected until they are identified when they have AIDS it has already been eight to 10 years most of the time. They have been often unknowingly infecting other people. By identifying it earlier it benefits not only the individual, but it benefits the whole society and helps stop the epidemic," said Dr. Monica Sweeney of the New York City Health Department.
The law not only requires providers to routinely test patients ages 13 to 64, but to link those positively identified to care if they accept it. Organizations like GMHC have already been working to handle an increase in new cases.
"We really want to identify those unaware of their status and get them linked to care and to do that you want to streamline the process as much as possible," said GMHC HIV Prevention Director Lynnette Ford
The concept of more streamlined testing is not new to the city. The health department along with the public hospital system have also already been engaged in pilot programs to do more routine testing, particularly in high-risk areas. The "Project Brief" program at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx helps doctors reach out to a larger number of patients. They use a computer-based model to educate about testing, assist with counseling and link them to care if needed.
By routinely testing most of the patients who come into the hospital at Jacobi Medical Center, over the past five years, they've already identified more than 200 patients with HIV who otherwise wouldn't have known their status.
"We've had a tremendous amount of success at linking patients into long term care for their disease. Our linkage rates are in the low to mid 90s which is excellent when you look at the national data," said Dr. Ethan Cowan of Jacobi Medical Center.
Health officials say they expect infection rates to remain the same at about 1.3 percent of the general population. The main difference is more of those New Yorkers will know their status and get the care they need.