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Many U.K. Physicians Missing Early Signs of HIV, Group Says

July 24, 2008

As many as 50% of early-stage HIV cases are being missed by physicians in the United Kingdom, largely because they overlook symptoms that are flu-like in nature, the National AIDS Trust said recently, BBC News reports. According to NAT, people who visit their physicians complaining of flu-like symptoms often are told that the cause is a minor viral infection and that they should return if their conditions do not improve.

According to BBC News, there are approximately 7,000 new cases of HIV in the United Kingdom each year, and as many as half are estimated to be transmitted by people who are in the early stages of the virus. During the early stages of HIV, there are large amounts of HIV in the blood and, in most cases, the heightened levels cause sore throats, fever and rashes. An HIV-positive person is most likely to transmit the virus at this point. However, after six weeks, the symptoms generally recede and the individual returns to feeling normal, BBC News reports.

Deborah Jack, NAT's chief executive, said, "It is very worrying that" physicians "and other health care professionals are often missing the signs and symptoms of HIV infection." Jack added, "This can mean they become seriously ill in the longer term and respond less well to treatment. It also means they are likely to be putting partners at risk of infection as they may live undiagnosed for a number of years." According to NAT, spotting flu-like symptoms and carrying out an HIV test could help prevent further HIV cases.

Martin Fisher, a consultant in HIV medicine, said the early stage of the virus is a "golden opportunity" to discover new cases. Fisher said, "HIV testing needs to be more widespread and routine. It's reasonable to expect doctors to be able to make this diagnosis." However, Christian Jessen, a physician specializing in sexual health medicine, said that doctors still are influenced by the stereotypical notion of the "gay man with HIV." Jessen said, "I have seen so many cases come to me which have been missed, and people with HIV are not just gay men, they are heterosexual men and women as well. Doctors need to always be alive to the possibility that the person in front of them may have HIV" (BBC News, 7/22).

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