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Evan Duggan, Vancouver Sun: Project aims to increase early HIV diagnosis

Project aims to increase early HIV diagnosis
by Evan Duggan, September 24, 2011

An estimated 3,500 British Columbians are infected with HIV and don’t know it, and a new pilot project will try to bring that number down.

Beginning Oct. 3, physicians will offer HIV tests to every patient requiring blood work who is admitted to St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals.

Testing will be offered to patients at Vancouver General from November, and at UBC Hospital in 2012.

The project, a joint initiative between Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care, will end in March 2013. The results will be analyzed and considered for expansion. The tests will require consent of patients, and the results will remain confidential.

“HIV infection is not being diagnosed early enough,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital.

“This is a serious issue as it can lead to fully preventable morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission.”

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy has become more successful at combating infection and illness caused by HIV/AIDS, Montaner said.

“It’s more important than ever for people to be diagnosed and access treatment as early as possible.”

In 2009, there were an estimated 11,000 British Columbians infected with HIV who were receiving antiretroviral therapy. Of those, about 60 per cent could be considered in “remission,” Montaner said.

Those in remission would be “at least 96-per-cent less likely to transmit the disease to others,” he said.

In 2010, there were 301 new positive cases diagnosed with HIV.

“That’s an all-time low,” Montaner said. Since 1995, HIV-positive tests in B.C. have dropped from around 17 per 100,000 inhabitants (the highest in the country at the time) to around 7 per 100,000 in 2008 – the biggest drop nationwide, according to statistics from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.


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