Routine HIV testing rolls out in IH hospitals 

Patients can expect to be offered an HIV test when receiving blood work in Interior Health hospitals. To date, seven Interior Health emergency departments have started offering an HIV test routinely and additional sites are expected to be on board in the coming months.
“B.C. is recognized as a global leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” BC Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement issued on Tuesday, November 17. “While innovation and hard work has produced a consistent decline in new HIV diagnoses, people still need to be aware of their HIV status. Diagnosing HIV infection early and providing treatment reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission and improves the health of patients.”
The expanded testing is a part of the provincial Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) program, which aims to reduce HIV transmission and improve the health outcomes of those living with HIV by offering widespread HIV testing, treatment, and early engagement into care.
“Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the number of new HIV infections in our region,” Dr. Trevor Corneil, Chief Medical Health Officer with Interior Health, said in the statement. “Treatments available today can suppress HIV to undetectable levels and that greatly reduces the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.”
Maja Karlsson, the STOP HIV Program implementation leader, believes routinely offering an HIV test will help reduce stigma and reach people with no obvious risk factors, who would normally have fallen through the cracks.
“Anyone who has ever been sexually active is at some risk of HIV,” she said. “A large portion of newly diagnosed patients don’t identify as ever belonging to one of the traditional high prevalence populations. Getting tested for HIV provides reassurance for those who test negative; and for those who test positive it provides an opportunity to access life–saving treatment.”
People with HIV often have no symptoms for many years. During this time, their health may be affected without them even knowing it. Research has shown that an early diagnosis in combination with anti-HIV medicines, called antiretroviral therapy, means people living with HIV can expect to live as long as those without HIV.
In the Interior Health region, 65 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed long after becoming infected. As a result, their immune systems can already be quite damaged, making full recovery more difficult.
Patients at IH hospitals will be offered an HIV test whenever other blood tests are ordered. As with all medical tests, the patient has the right to decline or refuse the test and only those patients able to make a decision on their own will be offered a test. Patients who test positive for HIV will be offered support and referred to appropriate care and treatment services.
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