WASHINGTON -- Health officials predicted yesterday that hospitals would take more stringent action to ensure that health practitioners infected with the AIDS virus do not perform invasive procedures.
Their predictions were prompted by the Senate's overwhelming approval on Thursday of two tough measures intended to prevent health professionals from infecting patients with the AIDS virus.
The officials interpreted the Senate votes as expressions of a growing public fear that health practitioners could infect patients, although this is known to have occurred in only five of the 182,000 cases of AIDS reported since the disease was first recognized in 1981.
The officials predicted that the hospitals would take action whether or not the Senate bills became law.
"Hospitals are going to have no choice but to become tougher," said Fred Entin, general counsel of the American Hospital Association.
He noted that one of the bills, sponsored by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate, would virtually require states to test health professionals for the AIDS virus if they were engaged in invasive procedures.
The bill, which adopted guidelines issued Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, would bar those infected from performing invasive procedures unless they received permission from a panel of experts and informed their patients. The vote was 99-0.
"Federal law won't be required to get hospitals to follow the CDC guidelines," Mr. Entin predicted. "The guidelines require a greater degree of attention on the part of hospitals toward the health status of their medical staff."
The Senate also adopted a proposal that would mandate prison terms of at least 10 years and fines of up to $10,000 for health workers who knew they had AIDS but had failed to inform patients on whom they had performed invasive procedures.
But the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., did not provide for mandatory testing for the AIDS virus. The vote was 81-18.
Mr. Entin said the Senate votes reflected "public sentiment and an expectation that our hospitals are going to have to be more attentive to this concern."
Similarly, C. Thomas Smith, president of Yale-New Haven Hospital, said that the Senate votes reflected "a public clamor for something to be done."
Mr. Smith, who is chairman of the board of the American Hospital Association, said "there isn't any question" that hospitals would take stringent action to protect their patients from infection by health practitioners who carry the human immunodeficiency ,X virus, which causes AIDS.
But he was critical of the Helms bill, which would provide criminal penalties.
"At the moment, there's been a willingness for HIV-positive people to come forward and seek counseling and guidance," Mr. Smith said. "This recriminatory approach could drive health professionals not to seek that kind of assistance."