Gov. William Donald Schaefer's advisory panel on AIDS agreed last night with his proposal to record the names of people who test positive for the disease-causing virus -- and in many cases, to trace partners they may have infected.
In supporting the measure by a 9-3 vote, the advisers provided a rare meeting-of-minds with the governor who appointed them. The two sides have disagreed far more often than they have agreed on major issues concerning the epidemic.
"This is not something I would have supported a few years ago," said Dr. Richard Johnson, a Johns Hopkins neurologist who chairs the panel. "But I think the epidemic has changed, and I think the strategy has to change."
While he abstained from the vote because he wanted answers to some technical questions, Dr. Johnson said that "contact tracing" could help prevent further transmission among intravenous drug users and teen-agers -- two groups, he said, that have shown widespread ignorance about the disease and how it is passed.
Through contact tracing, he said, health officers could encourage sexual and drug-using partners to get tested themselves. And if they test positive, they can get treated much earlier than if they had waited for the disease to run its course. Early treatment with drugs, especially AZT, has been shown to prolong the lives of people who have contracted the virus.
The proposal goes to the state Senate on Feb. 6.
Under the bill, Maryland would maintain five testing sites where patients could be tested anonymously: their blood specimens would be identified with a code number, and no one would know the names of people testing positive or negative.
Patients testing positive anywhere else -- in public clinics, hospitals or doctors' offices -- would have their names and test results reported to health authorities.