Doubling of UK HIV rate prompts routine testing call

HIV contaminated blood
Image caption HIV can be spread via blood and bodily secretions

A doubling of new HIV infections in the UK in the past decade is leading experts to tell GPs to offer testing to all adult male patients in some areas.

Health Protection Agency data shows new UK-acquired cases rose from just under 2,000 in 2001 to nearly 3,800 in 2010.

Many of these new cases are among men who have sex with men and it is this group that campaigners hope to target.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has launched new guidelines for doctors in England.

Routine testing

NICE says GPs should now offer and recommend HIV testing to all men who register with a practice in an area with a large community of men who have sex with men or an area that has a high prevalence of HIV - meaning more than two diagnosed cases per 1,000 people.

Hospital doctors should follow similar advice for any men admitted to their hospital.

Increased testing should help stop the spread of HIV by identifying men at risk, NICE believes.

Men who have sex with men remain the group most at risk of becoming infected with HIV.

New diagnoses in this group alone have increased by 70% in the past 10 years.

There are more than 30,000 men who have sex with men living with HIV in the UK and experts estimate nearly a third of these are currently undiagnosed and unaware that they are infected.

Another high-risk group that would benefit from increased HIV testing, according to NICE, is the black African community living in England.

In 2009, more than 2,000 black Africans were diagnosed with an HIV infection, one-third of all new diagnoses in the UK.

Professor Mike Kelly from NICE said: "HIV is still a serious problem in this country, with a large proportion of people unaware they are infected.

"This new guidance from NICE makes a number of practical recommendations which aim to increase HIV testing by encouraging healthcare professionals to offer it routinely to people in areas where there are a high number of people living with HIV."

This would include parts of large cities like London and Manchester, as well as areas like Brighton and Hove.

Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, said: "These expanded HIV testing policies should be prioritised for implementation as soon as possible.

"The impact of late diagnosis is clearly demonstrated when you look at deaths among people with HIV - three out of five of HIV-positive individuals that die are diagnosed too late to gain the most health benefits from their treatment, like increased life expectancy."

HIV charities said the guidelines were a "vital step forward".

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