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Call for universal HIV testing

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

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The number of people living with HIV in the UK is estimated to be 91,500 and a quarter of those infected are unaware of their infection, according to Health Protection Agency (HPA).

One in five people visiting an STI clinic in 2010 did not accept an HIV test, prompting the HPA to call for universal testing for HIV at STI clinics, so no one leaves without knowing there status. The HPA also wants to see universal testing for all new GP registrants and patients admitted to hospital in areas of high prevalence so as to reduce late diagnosis of HIV. 

The HPA’s annual ‘HIV in the United Kingdom’ report found 6,660 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2010. The report confirmed that infections probably acquired within the UK almost doubled in the last decade from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,640 in 2010 and exceed those acquired abroad – 3,020. This rise is mostly due to infections acquired among men who have sex with men, who remain the group most at risk of HIV infection in the UK.

In 2010, over 3,000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV – the highest ever annual number. One in 20 gay men is now infected with HIV nationally with one in 11 in London.

The HPA is concerned that over half of people diagnosed in 2010 came forward for testing after the point at which treatment for their infection should ideally have begun. Late diagnosis is associated with an increased risk of AIDS and death.

Among the 680 people with HIV who died in 2010, two thirds were people who had been diagnosed late. The HPA report recommends that in areas where prevalence of HIV is high, there should be universal testing for the infection in all new GP registrants and patients admitted to hospital so as to reduce late diagnosis. 

Dr Valerie Delpech, consultant epidemiologist and head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, said: “HIV is an infection which can nowadays be treated and those diagnosed promptly can expect to experience similar life expectancy as an individual without the infection. However, we are very concerned that a large number of people in the UK are unaware of their HIV status and are diagnosed late.

“We want to see increased access to HIV testing routinely offered in clinical settings such as new registrants at GPs and hospital general admissions, in areas of the country where rates of HIV infection are high. We are also urging sexual health clinics to ensure that HIV testing is offered as part of a universal sexual health screen at every new attendance.”

Research by the HPA has shown that routine and universal testing is feasible to undertake and acceptable to patients and that increased testing and greater access will help reduce the number of people who are unaware of their HIV status and increase the chances of early diagnosis, when treatment is more successful.

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