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Study: European hospitals often overlook HIV in patients presenting other diseases

While there are 2.5 million people in Europe who have HIV, researchers said many patients never get tested despite having diseases and conditions that indicate possible infection.

By
Stephen Feller
Researchers suggest moving HIV testing recommendations from guidelines to being part of routine examination for certain conditions when treated at a hospital. Photo by Suwin/Shutterstock
Researchers suggest moving HIV testing recommendations from guidelines to being part of routine examination for certain conditions when treated at a hospital. Photo by Suwin/Shutterstock

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Hospitals do not always test patients for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, when they come in for treatment for a disease known to indicate potential HIV infection, meaning many people who need treatment are not diagnosed.

A new study in Europe shows many hospital patients who are HIV-positive go unnoticed because medical professionals don't offer the test when the presence of certain other conditions indicates they could have HIV.

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Researchers at the University of Copenhagen said hospitals could be diagnosing, and treating, twice the number of people with HIV if they followed European guidelines on when to offer patients a test for the immune-suppressing virus.

Estimates show there are about 2.5 million people in Europe with HIV or AIDS, about a third of whom do not know they have the disease. Researchers said 99 percent of people offered the test accept it, causing researchers to ask why data shows the test isn't offered to every appropriate patient during hospital treatment.

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Patients who present with tuberculosis, hepatitis, certain types of cancer and esophagal thrush are recommended to be tested for HIV, and roughly three out of four actually are.

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"This is very unfortunate," said Dr. Jens Lundgren, a professor in the department of infectious diseases at the University of Copenhagen, in a press release. "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."

Researchers analyzed data on 7,037 people treated at 23 hospitals gathered as part of the HIV Indicator Diseases across Europe Study over the course of 18 months.

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Overall, 72 percent of appropriate patients received tests. Testing rates varied between regions of Europe, as just 44 percent of patients in Northern Europe got the test, compared with 99 percent of patients in Eastern Europe receiving it.

Lundgren suggests making tests more than a guideline, and instead including them with routine diagnostic and treatment methods to prevent patients from being missed and get people the treatment they need.

"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," Lundgren said.

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The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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