This recommendation is based on evidence that currently available tests accurately identify pregnant women who are HIV infected and that recommended treatment strategies can dramatically reduce the chances that an infected mother will transmit HIV to her infant.

The Task Force also reaffirmed its earlier recommendation that all adolescents and adults at increased risk for HIV infection be screened and has broadened its definition of high-risk. In addition to patients who report high-risk behaviours, all patients receiving care in high-risk settings such as homeless shelters or clinics dedicated to the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases should be tested.

The Task Force found at least fair evidence that screening adolescents and adults who are not at increased risk can improve health outcomes, but concluded that the balance of benefits and harms is too close to justify a general recommendation.

"This recommendation is an important advancement in reducing the rates of HIV in the United States,” said Task Force Vice-Chair Diana Petitti, M.D., who also is Senior Scientific Advisor for Health Policy and Medicine for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. "More accurate HIV testing during pregnancy and new treatments for HIV have been shown to be safe and effective for mothers and infants and may reduce the number of infants born with the disease.”

Since 1995, advancements in treating HIV-positive patients with Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), a treatment regimen that combines three or more medications, have been shown to slow the progression of the disease as well as to reduce HIV-related death rates.

There are an estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans infected with HIV who are unaware that they have the virus. If left untreated, almost all infected individuals will develop acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).; Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)