Experts renew calls for routine HIV testing at GP surgeries
People who live in areas where there is a high prevalence of HIV should be offered testing for the infection when they first register with their GP, as recommended by NICE.
The call comes from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), as latest figures reveal that more than 21,000 people in the UK are unaware that they have the infection.
The HPA's annual ‘HIV in the UK' report found that 6,660 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK, and that one in five people visiting an STI clinic in 2010 did not accept an HIV test.
The report - which coincides with World AIDS day today - 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.
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.
However, advances in medicine mean that HIV is no longer the terminal illness it once was 30 years ago, and can now be successfully managed with antiretroviral therapies if diagnosed early.
The HPA report recommends putting NICE's guidance into action to reduce the number of people receiving a late diagnosis.
The guidance recommends that HIV testing should be offered to all general medical admissions and to all people aged 15-59 registering in general practice in areas where the diagnosed HIV prevalence is greater than 2 per 1,000 population.
Areas where there is a high HIV prevalence include a number of boroughs across London as well as other major cities such as Manchester, Brighton, Nottingham and Birmingham.
Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE, said: “Our guidance makes a number of practical recommendations which aim to increase HIV testing by encouraging healthcare professionals to offer it routinely to people in areas where there are a high number of people living with HIV.
“For the individual, there are obvious health benefits to being diagnosed quickly, they can start treatment if they need to and look after their own health. But HIV testing and treatment can also help reduce transmission of the virus.”
Dr Valerie Delpech, consultant epidemiologist and head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, added: “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.”
The HIV guidance can now be viewed on NICE Pathways, our new online tool that provides quick and easy access, topic by topic, to the range of guidance from NICE.
1 December 2011