* Utah mail carriers delivering AIDS brochure.

The National Academy of Sciences said Wednesday the hundreds of thousands of Americans unknowingly infected with the AIDS virus should be considered as suffering from a disease even if they don't have full-scale AIDS."Viewing HIV infection as a disease is important because it may eventually be amenable to treatment and patients will need to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible," the academy said in a report.

The report based its recommendation on what is now "scientifically conclusive" evidence that the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, causes AIDS.

"From a public health perspective the important event is infection rather than full-blown disease because even asymptomatic infected persons are capable of infecting others," it said.

But the report also called for a federal law to prevent discrimination against people with the AIDS virus - a measure opposed by the Reagan administration.

And although it encouraged more voluntary testing to get better information on the magnitude of the epidemic, the report says mandatory testing "is currently appropriate only for blood, tissue and organ donations" and specifically says testing should not be a requirement for getting a marriage license.

The report also called for establishment of a new, semi-permanent federal commission to oversee the nation's response to the epidemic after the present White House commission goes out of business this month.

The report was prepared by a joint committee of the academy and one of its operating arms, the Institute of Medicine, and was presented as "an update of and a supplement" to the academy's initial 1986 report on AIDS.

The new call for placing additional emphasis on the estimated number of people infected with the virus reflected what the committee said was a growing consensus that "the vast majority of persons" with the virus "will eventually progress to AIDS if no treatment is found to slow or halt the progression of the infection."

Moreover, the panel said many people infected with the virus suffer from "clinical syndromes and laboratory test abnormalities that signal the presence of disease but do not meet" technical guidelines for being listed as either AIDS or AIDS-related complex.

The symptoms for the latter - ARC for short - were incorporated in a definition by the Centers for Disease Control.

"The committee believes that the term ARC is no longer useful, either from a clinical or a public health perspective, and that HIV infection itself should be considered a disease," said the report.

However, the panel acknowledged that CDC estimates showing as many as 1.4 million Americans may be infected with the virus - as opposed to a little over 62,000 diagnosed with full AIDS - are based on epidemiological studies and projections rather than extensive data.

"The imprecision of those figures and others about prevalence, incidence, modes and efficiencies of transmission, and other crucial information, bespeaks the need for more facts," the report said. "The committee therefore strongly urges continued epidemiological research in support of appropriate prevention and control measures."