1 July 2014

People with HIV Must Receive Earlier Diagnoses

Ensuring that people with HIV receive earlier diagnoses will reduce transmission and prevent thousands of further cases, accordingto NICE.

HIV is a virus most often transmitted through unprotected sex, leaving people less able to fight infections. In 2012, an estimated 98,400 people in the UK were living with HIV. Yet up to 21,900 people with HIV were unaware that they were infected.

Testing for the virus is key in preventing its transmission. This is because more than half of new cases are estimated to be due to people who are undiagnosed having unprotected sex. People who do not know their HIV status are believed to be 3 times more likely to pass on the infection those who know their status. They are also twice as likely to have unprotected sex.

Local authorities are responsible for HIV testing in community and sexual health services, and to help them with this role, NICE has produced a local government public health briefing on the topic.

NICE says that promoting HIV testing can help people live longer and healthier lives through early access to anti-retroviral medication, save money through reduced admissions and for caring for someone in the community, and reduce transmission rates by improving rates of diagnosis.

The briefing links to a range of recommendations, including assessing the local need for HIV testing for black Africans and men who have sex with men. This is because HIV is most prevalent among these sectors of the community in the UK.

Further recommendations include planning referral pathways for those delivering HIV tests, providing HIV testing in primary and secondary care, and providing outreach HIV testing services for men who have sex with men.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE said: “Too many people with HIV in the UK do not know they have the virus. It is a serious health problem – but one that benefits from early treatment.

“It’s estimated that just under 100,000 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2012. But 1 in 5 of them did not know they were carrying the virus. If those people are identified and treated, then a further 3,500 case of HIV transmission could be prevented within 5 years.

He added: “Early diagnosis of HIV can mean that people are able to live full and normal lives if they take anti-retroviral medication. And once people are being treated they are much less infectious. In addition, £18 million each year spent on treatment costs could be saved within the first 5 years.

“Increased HIV testing and earlier diagnosis will also reduce hospital admissions and lower the costs of caring for someone in the community with HIV.” 

Dr Anthony Nardone, Public Health England, added, “In the UK, a fifth of people living with HIV are unaware of their infection. We also know that around half of people newly diagnosed with HIV are identified late.

“Encouraging earlier and more frequent HIV testing, especially by those most at-risk, and reducing late diagnoses will help reduce new HIV infections in the UK. We urge all those involved with commissioning and delivering HIV testing services to read this NICE briefing document today, and to use it to inform local action planning looking forward.”