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Failure to Diagnose Early Stage Symptoms is Fuelling Spread of HIV

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The National AIDS Trust has today released the report "Primary HIV Infection". The report finds conclusive evidence that symptoms of early-stage HIV infection (clinically known as "primary HIV infection") are being commonly missed by people who are infected, by doctors and by other healthcare professionals. Failure to diagnose at this early stage is fuelling HIV in the UK.

The National AIDS Trust has uncovered cases of people displaying symptoms of early-stage HIV infection being sent away by doctors without being offered HIV tests.   Instead comments included; ‘Probably glandular fever’; ‘It’s a viral illness’; or ‘Come back in two weeks if you’re not feeling better’.  In one Brighton study half (48 per cent) of those who sought medical advice for what where in fact HIV symptoms were not diagnosed. 

Symptoms of early-stage HIV are most frequently sore throat, fever and rash occurring at the same time, usually within 2 to 6 weeks of infection.  Whilst taken separately these are common complaints, together this triad of symptoms coupled with recent risky behaviour should always suggest possible HIV and require a HIV test. 

70 to 90 per cent of individuals will show symptoms at this early-stage which is a vitally important opportunity to diagnose.  After this stage symptoms may not appear again for many years.

The report also points to strong evidence that this failure to diagnose early-stage HIV is fuelling the UK epidemic.  Between 30 to 50 per cent of new HIV infections are estimated to be passed on by people themselves in the early stage of infection but unaware of their condition.

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, comments:

“It is very worrying that GPs and other healthcare professionals are often missing the signs and symptoms of HIV infection.  HIV diagnoses are increasing across the UK and all doctors need to be aware of the symptoms of recent infection and latest testing options. 

Failing to diagnosis someone with HIV can mean that they become seriously ill in the longer term and respond less well to treatment.  It also means that they are likely to be putting partners at risk of infection as they may live undiagnosed for a number of years.

Prevention campaigns currently fail to communicate to individuals the symptoms of early HIV infection. Whilst it is important to say not everybody will have such symptoms, in the majority that do it is a one-off opportunity to diagnosis early. Diagnosing HIV at this early stage could have a significant impact on reducing HIV infections in the UK.”

Testing technology has improved significantly in recent years and is able to diagnose HIV in the majority of cases from about 12 days after infection.  The report also calls for the newer and more sensitive tests to be used in all labs, and for old messages of a ‘three-month window period’ to be replaced by encouragement to seek immediately expert advice and testing where possible HIV infection is suspected.

Deborah Jack continues:

“Our advice is simple; if you suspect you may have been infected with HIV seek medical advice immediately.  Do not wait.”

HIV in the UK

Over 80,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
Last year nearly 7,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK
A third of people with HIV in the UK are not diagnosed
A third of people who are diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed late (after the point at which they should have started treatment)

Notes to the Editor:

For further information contact:
Katherine Sladden, National AIDS Trust
020 7814 6733 or 07947 725299 /

National AIDS Trust

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) is the UK's leading independent policy and campaigning voice on HIV and AIDS. It aims to prevent the spread of HIV, encourage early diagnosis, ensure people living with HIV have access to treatment and care, and eradicate HIV-related stigma and discrimination.