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News

Majority of HIV-infected patients seek medical care years after infection

Boston University : 29 January, 2001  (Technical Article)
In the second decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, patients sought HIV testing and medical care long after acquiring the virus. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Brown University School of Medicine gauged the time it took for patients to present to their physician after acquiring HIV and assessed patients' awareness of their HIV risk before they tested positive.
In the second decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, patients sought HIV testing and medical care long after acquiring the virus. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and Brown University School of Medicine gauged the time it took for patients to present to their physician after acquiring HIV and assessed patients' awareness of their HIV risk before they tested positive. The mean time between a patient's infection with HIV and when he or she sought medical care was slightly more than eight years. This study was recently published in the journal AIDS.

'We found that for those who are aware of their risk of HIV, the decision to be tested for HIV is a difficult one,' said Jeffrey Samet, MD, associate professor of medicine at BUSM, medical director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment at the Boston Public Health Commission and lead author of the study. 'However, the longer patients delay HIV testing and medical care, the less able they are to reap the benefits of significantly improved drug therapies, prophylaxis for opportunistic infections, immunizations and behavioral interventions.'

Researchers examined the CD4 blood counts in HIV-infected individuals to estimate the time between infection and initial presentation to their physician. They found that the majority of patients were at an advanced stage of immunosuppression, signifying that infection took place years before. More than one-third of the HIV-infected patients in the study was not aware of their risk of HIV before they were tested. Those most unaware of their HIV risk were those patients who contracted HIV through heterosexual intercourse.

The study calls for physicians and public health officials to raise awareness of HIV risk, encourage HIV testing, and to engage patients early to maximize the benefit of new advances in HIV therapy. 'Not only is it important on an individual basis for these patients to receive medical care sooner, but earlier testing and medical care is crucial to reduce new HIV infections,' said Samet.
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