WASHINGTON -- Doctors, sociologists and researchers meeting here this week say they do not support a proposal to broaden the definition of AIDS, which would increase the AIDS population by 50 percent but also could exclude many of those most at risk.
The proposal by the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta would add a white blood cell count to the definition of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
However, experts told a meeting of the National Commission on AIDS yesterday they fear it still may leave out poor women, minorities and intravenous drug users -- the people least likely to seek medical attention for HIV-related illnesses.
The new AIDS definition, which goes into affect in April, will include people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus who have a low level of CD4 lymphocyte cells -- the white blood cells that protect the body from HIV-related illnesses.
An AIDS patient would have a CD4 lymphocyte count of 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood, according to the CDC.
The CDC decided to include the white blood cell count in its definition instead of adding another group of illnesses to keep the criteria simple, but many experts argued that poor women, minorities and intravenous drug users who are not tested for CD4 lymphocyte cells or don't seek adequate medical attention for their infections will be excluded.
The federal hearings continued today.
Ruth Berkelman, chief of the surveillance branch of the CDC, predicted that with the new definition the number of women with AIDS would increase by 61 percent and men by 51 percent.
In Maryland, the AIDS population could increase from 3,899 to 5,848, based on CDC data.
Berkelman said the current definition -- a complicated one based on HIV infection and 23 related ailments -- left out many of those HIV-infected people who are chronically ill. Those people do not qualify for Social Security benefits or some health insurance benefits, she said.
People suffering from tuberculosis, renal disorders, neurological problems and urinary tract infections "may not meet the AIDS definition," Berkelman said. "These people are literally stacking up behind the definition."
The CDC should include every HIV-infected person in its AIDS surveillance, said the commission's vice chairman, David E. Rogers.