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Failure to spot HIV symptoms “fuelling UK epidemic”

25 July 2008

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Failure to spot early HIV symptoms by primary healthcare professionals is fuelling a UK epidemic of the condition, according to a new report by the National AIDS Trust.

The Trust’s report, Primary HIV Infection, finds evidence that symptoms of early-stage HIV infection are being commonly missed by people who are infected, by doctors and by other healthcare professionals.

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”; “Come back in two weeks if you’re not feeling better”. In one Brighton study, 48% 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 two to six weeks of infection.

While taken separately these are common complaints, together this triad of symptoms, coupled with recent risky behaviour, should always suggest possible HIV and require an HIV test, the National AIDS Trust have said.

Between 70–90% of individuals will show symptoms at this early stage, 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 30–50% 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, said: “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.

“Diagnosing HIV at this early stage could have a significant impact on reducing HIV infections in the UK.”

National AIDS Trust