It is estimated that currently there are 2.5 million people living with HIV in Europe, and of whom every third person is unaware of the infection. A new study has revealed that several European hospitals fail to routinely test people who may be at risk of an HIV-infection. The researchers suggested that if tests were more widely offered in the healthcare system, fewer HIV-patients would go unnoticed, especially in Northern Europe.
Researchers observed that when a patient is admitted to hospital with a disease that could indicate an HIV-infection, they are not always offered an HIV-test. The study has been published in PlosOne
‘If not diagnosed at an early stage, HIV can lead to complications. The life expectancy of patients is shortened and there is a greater risk that they may have transmitted the virus to others. European hospitals would be able to diagnose almost twice as many people with HIV, if they adhered to the guidelines on which people should be offered an HIV-test.’
Professor Jens Lundgren from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Rigshospitalet and Copenhagen University said, "Hospitals would be able to diagnosed 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. Furthermore, expenses rise when the infection is discovered at a later stage."
This new study examined approximately 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 esophagus thrush. Overall, barely three out of four patients were offered an HIV-test.
Researchers revealed that Northern Europe had 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 esophagus thrush and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in particular who are not offered a test.
Jens Lundgren said, "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. 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."