One-in-three people with AIDS do not know
they are infected, finds research
Saturday 14/05/05 Irish Examiner
By Evelyn Ring
Many patients in Ireland and Britain are not having
their HIV infection diagnosed until the disease
is at a late stage, new research has found. This
has sparked fears in Ireland that the disease
may be spreading amongst the wider community at
a faster rate.
Around 3,500 HIV infections have been reported
in Ireland. It is reckoned however, that one-in-three
people already infected with the virus are unaware
of their disease status.
Executive director of Dublin AIDS Alliance, Ann
Nolan, said there was already anecdotal evidence
that people were presenting themselves for diagnosis
at a late stage. "It is really down to a huge
lack of awareness of HIV and AIDS among the general
population," said Ms Nolan, who heads the voluntary
group that provides support, advocacy and mediation
services for people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Researchers found that in a large number of cases
patients were going to their doctor with HIV-related
symptoms, but still remained undiagnosed as much
as a year later. "As a result, there is a chance
that they will not be picked up as a result,"
she pointed out. The researchers, writing in the
British Medical Journal, have called for routine
HIV screening to increase, with those most at
risk encouraged to take a test. Less than half
of the patients (41%) were diagnosed as part of
a routine screening, according to the team from
Chelsea and Westminister NHS Trust. They also
pointed to the well-recognised advantages of early
diagnosis of HIV and starting appropriate treatment
with highly active anti-retroviral therapy.
Ms Nolan said gay men and injecting drug users
were aware of the HIV-risk and were linked to
the services. "They are more likely to look after
their sexual health and be detected for HIV,"
she added. What the research demonstrates yet
again was the real need for a national campaign
around HIV, said Ms Nolan. "People are incredibly
apathetic about HIV because they associate it
with purely at-risk groups and don't perceive
themselves to be at risk at all," said Ms Nolan.
There was also a need for an awareness for clinicians
who are not specifically dealing with HIV infection.
She also warned that the dramatic rise in sexually
transmitted diseases (STD's) was not helping matters.
"That may herald an increase in HIV as has been
the case in other countries because the virus
is more easily transmitted where there is a sexually