January 8, 2016
Nanaimo – In Canada, approximately one in four people who are living with HIV is unaware of his or her infection. Starting January 11, 2016, patients admitted to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital through the Emergency Department will be offered a HIV test as part of their admission bloodwork. This initiative was recently implemented at Campbell River Hospital and West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni, and will roll out at remaining Island Health acute care sites in the future.
“The key to reducing new HIV infections is early diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. David Forrest, Infectious Diseases physician for Central and North Vancouver Island. “More importantly, identifying and connecting people with HIV infection to treatment early on will keep them healthy and will prevent them from developing AIDS or dying of HIV disease.”
It is estimated that over half of new HIV infections occur via transmission from individuals who are unaware of their infection. “Treatment virtually eliminates the chance that the virus can be passed on to others, since antiretroviral therapy suppresses the virus to undetectable levels”, says Dr. Forrest. “Indeed by identifying people with HIV disease and providing them treatment, we can stop HIV transmission and end the HIV epidemic. The goal is to be free of AIDS in BC within a generation, and the key to doing so is making the diagnosis and linking patients with HIV infection to care”
In B.C., one in six people have advanced HIV disease at the time of diagnosis. Even at a late stage of disease, treatment can reverse the damage to the immune system caused by HIV and maintain or restore health. But the earlier HIV disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the long term health benefits.
“Routine HIV testing in hospital settings is part of a broader constellation of HIV testing services offered within our Island communities aiming to identify HIV disease more efficiently and at an earlier stage ” says Sophie Bannar-Martin, STOP HIV and Bloodborne Disease Manager at Island Health. “We know that early diagnosis and treatment can allow people living with HIV to live long, healthy lives.”
Similar routine testing has been in place in Vancouver since 2011 and has been very successful in identifying HIV disease earlier and providing them treatment.
“A significant portion of new diagnoses were identified in patients who had no identifiable risk factors,” says Dr. Forrest. “This emphasizes the importance of knowing your HIV status regardless of your perceived risks. Early treatment of HIV disease will allow you to remain healthy with a normal life span. Everyone needs to know his or her HIV status.”
Manager, Regional Communications