Call for opportunistic GP HIV tests

GPs should be opportunistically testing at-risk populations for HIV when they register as new patients at practices, says the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Latest data for HIV rates in the UK suggest around 73,000 people are living with HIV, but between 17,000 and 27,800 are unaware of their infection.

Worryingly, of the 7,800 new diagnoses of HIV in the UK in 2006, one in three patients were diagnosed late, with a CD4 cell count below 200 cells/mm3, the threshold for starting antiretroviral therapy. These patients are less likely to fully benefit from therapy.

Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, said she backed the letter sent in September by CMO for England Liam Donaldson urging GPs to boost early HIV diagnosis.

‘We really need to target GPs who are seeing, for example, black African patients,’ said Dr Delpech. ‘Or it may be that when new patients attend a practice that may be a time to test for HIV.’

However, testing all patients ‘would not be practical or feasible’, she said. Instead, GPs should concentrate on those at highest risk.

The latest HPA data shows that those most at risk are homosexual men. But HIV transmission between heterosexuals in the UK is also increasing, with people from black ethnic minorities most at risk, says the HPA.

The HPA audit also suggests sexual health is getting worse among young adults in the UK.

Rates of herpes and genital warts have increased in those aged 16 to 24. Among those being screened for chlamydia, one in ten test positive for the infection.

rachel.liddle@haymarket.com

HPA report

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