By Tony Grew
Sexually active gay men should be tested every 12 months, new guidelines on HIV testing have recommended.
The UK National Guidelines for HIV Testing 2008 aim to increase HIV testing in a wider range of healthcare settings and reduce late diagnosis.
Recent figures show that more than 30% of gay or bisexual men living with HIV do not know they are infected.
47% of HIV infected gay men who visit a sexual health clinic leave without being tested for HIV.
The new guidelines state that “HIV is now a treatable medical condition and the majority of those living with the virus remain fit and well on treatment.”
Late diagnosis is the most important factor associated with HIV-related morbidity and mortality in the UK, and it recommends that patients be “offered and encouraged to accept” HIV testing in a wider range of settings.
Other recommendations include routine HIV tests for patients with specific indicator conditions and doctors, nurses and midwives being able to obtain informed consent for an HIV test in the same way that they currently do for any other medical investigation.
National AIDS Trust, the UK’s leading independent policy and campaigning charity on HIV and AIDS, produced a report earlier this year showing the symptoms of early-stage HIV infection are routinely being misdiagnosed by doctors.
It found that in one Brighton study, almost half of those who sought medical advice for what eventually turned out to be HIV symptoms were not diagnosed correctly.
Symptoms of early-stage HIV include sore throat, fever and rash and will show within two to six weeks of infection in 70-90 per cent of cases.
The report also found that 30-50 per cent of new HIV infections are thought to be passed on by people in the early stage of infection, making the need to catch new cases early in order to prevent the spread of HIV a priority.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT, said:
“Today in the UK people still become seriously ill or die HIV because they have not been diagnosed with HIV early enough. And many may be putting partners at risk of infection as they can live undiagnosed for a number of years.
“The new guidelines are a welcome step forward in encouraging doctors and health workers to prioritise diagnosing HIV and increase testing.
“Healthcare workers must be knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of HIV and be prepared to carry out an HIV test.
“Gay men have a crucial part to play in breaking down stigma around HIV testing. One in 20 gay men in the UK are living with HIV.
“We strongly support the recommendation that all sexually active gay men have an HIV test at least once a year.”
The new guidelines were published by the British HIV Association (BHIVA), British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and British Infection Society (BIS).