When a patient is admitted to hospital with a disease that could indicate an HIV-infection, they are not always offered an HIV-test. However, if offered a test, almost all patients accept, as revealed in the currently largest study on the subject, which has just now been published in the renowned scientific journal, PlosOne.
“Hospitals would be able to diagnose almost twice as many people with HIV, if they all adhered to the European guidelines on which people should be offered an HIV-test. This is very unfortunate. When we fail to diagnose those living with HIV in time, they suffer more complications, their life expectancy is shortened and there is a greater risk that they may have transmitted the virus to others. This is why it’s important to diagnose as many people as possible, early on,” Professor Jens Lundgren from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Rigshospitalet and Copenhagen University states. Furthermore, expenses rise when the infection is discovered at a later stage.
According to experts, in Europe, there are currently 2.5 million people living with HIV – of whom every third person is unaware of the infection. This new study examined approx. 7,000 patients who came into contact with the healthcare system because they suffer one of six diseases that could also indicate an HIV-infection: tuberculosis, hepatitis, certain types of cancer as well as oesophagus thrush. Overall, barely three out of four patients were offered an HIV-test.
Northern Europe has lowest test-rate
The study included 23 hospitals from all over Europe and revealed that HIV-tests are offered highly irregularly. In Eastern Europe, 99% of relevant patients were offered a test as opposed to only 44% in Northern Europe. It is patients with oesophagus thrush and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in particular who are not offered a test.
“These diseases are treated on wards that are not used to treating patients with HIV. The test-rate is higher for patients suffering tuberculosis and hepatitis, as they are often treated on wards that also treat patients with HIV. It appears that healthcare professionals in Northern Europe in particular encounter a barrier in terms of considering the possibility of an HIV-infection and subsequent tests,” Jens Lundgren elaborates.
When patients are offered a test, 99% accept.
“We find very high test-rates for pregnant women, because they are routinely offered a test. It’s a very important offer that also helps prevent HIV in newborn babies, even though the number of pregnant women with HIV is very low. If we are able to include tests as part of the routine treatment of diseases that indicate a possible HIV-infection, we will be able to discover more patients early on,” Jens Lundgren concludes.
Testing week for HIV and hepatitis from 20 November
From 20 – 27 November, citizens across Europe are offered an HIV-test as the HIV in Europe-initiative complete their third “European testing week”, where a number of centres, hospital wards and other health offers make an extra effort and offer free HIV-tests. Their aim is to enhance awareness of HIV and hepatitis as well as the advantages of being tested and thus able to start treatment early on.