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Federal officials take aim at AIDS.

Federal officials take aim at AIDS

Public health officials, heads of government agencies and President Reagan all made major announcements about AIDS late last month. Among the highlights:

Reagan appointed 12 members to a national commission on AIDS. The panel, which is to meet for the first time after Labor Day, is to advise the President on the "medical, legal, ethical, social and economic impact' of AIDS. Critics of the President's choices note that he failed to include a scientist engaged in AIDS research, a physician who treats AIDS patients or an expert in health-care financing. The panel does, however, include members with a wide variety of views about the deadly disease. Members range from Frank Lilly, an openly homosexual physician and geneticist at New York's Albert Einstein University Medical Center, to Cardinal John J. O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archibishop of New York, who has denounced homosexuality as a sin and is opposed to education campaigns that advocate the use of condoms. The

commission is to give a preliminary report in three months. A final report is due within a year.

State-supported AIDS education was an issue at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual meeting in Indianapolis. Woodrow A. Myers Jr., Indiana health commissioner and an appointee to Reagan's panel, spoke out in favor of AIDS education in schools. "The people who are going to have AIDS in 1991 are in high school today,' he said. "The people who are going to have AIDS in 1995 are in grade school.' Studies indicate that 57 percent of the nation's 25 million teenagers are sexually active by age 17, and that up to one-third of these teenagers don't use contraception. Compared with other age groups, teenagers already have the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases.

Federal officials met at the Centers for Disease Control (CDS) in Atlanta to discuss a number of controversial policy proposals aimed at preventing the transmission of AIDS in hospitals. The meeting was called following disclosure in May that three health-care workers had become infected with the AIDS virus after being splashed with AIDS-infected blood (SN: 5/23/87, p.326). New guidelines under discussion may require more routine testing of hospital patients, or even routine testing of health-care workers. Increased testing is supported by some--including presidential commission appointee Penny Pullen, who has already introduced such legislation in the Illinois State House of Representatives. Others, however, point out that despite an increasing fear of AIDS, health-care workers have not developed a disproportionately higher number of AIDS cases compared with the U.S. labor force as a whole. "There are no data to support the view that testing patients will make us safer,' says David Henderson, chief epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center.

The degree to which health-care workers should be required to wear protective clothing is also getting federal attention. The CDC has since November 1982 recommended the use of protective gloves and gowns for health-care workers, and has said that all blood and urine specimens should be treated as if they were contaminated with AIDS. The Public Health Service and the American Hospital Association have made similar recommendations. Compliance, however, has been voluntary--and reportedly low. Now the Labor Department has announced it will begin penalizing health-care employers who fail to enact safeguards recommended by the CDC and other public health agencies. The policy will be enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), an arm of the Labor Department, and may result in fines of up to $10,000 per violation. Meanwhile, OSHA will work to develop its own guidelines on precautions against AIDS and hepatitis B.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 8, 1987
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