Utah currently requires physicians and other medical organizations to report to the State Department of Health the names and addresses of people diagnosed as having AIDS. But there is a loophole regarding the virus leading to AIDS.

The virus, known as HIV, can be present in a person's blood for years before that person comes down with AIDS symptoms. In the meantime, it can be passed on to an unsuspecting partner through sexual contact or sharing of hypodermic needles.This lag time between having the virus and actually being stricken with the disease helps it to be spread to others. While only 174 cases of AIDS have been reported in Utah, it is estimated that there are thousands of unknown HIV carriers in the population.

A measure approved by the Senate Health Committee in the Utah Legislature would require persons who test positive for HIV to also be reported to the Health Department.

The proposed law, sponsored by Sen. Winn Richards, D-Ogden, who is a physician, would identify HIV carriers so the Health Department could then warn people who might have been exposed through contact with those carriers.

This does not mean that HIV carriers would be identified to the public at large. Like AIDS patients, privacy would be strictly guarded.

The proposed legislation on HIV test results does have one exception necessary to get the law passed. It allows the Salt Lake County Health Department to continue its anonymous testing program.

If anonymous testing were not available, health authorities fear many persons would not be tested.

About two-thirds of those tested are willing to disclose identities on a confidential basis, but one-third insist on being anonymous. And it is among that third that a higher percentage of AIDS or HIV is found.

Clearly, anonymous testing is better than no testing at all, but reporting HIV carriers to the State Department of Health whenever possible still offers some protection to unsuspecting members of the public.

One would hope that a person who tests positive for HIV would have the sense to tell former sex partners about the result. But giving the Health Department the opportunity to follow through may make up for those who - for whatever reason - can't or won't do it themselves.