Diagnosing of HIV is being ‘left too late’

HIV testing can be done at home
HIV testing can be done at home

The vast majority of people with HIV in Wigan are not being diagnosed until the disease has damaged their immune system.

A report released by Public Health England has shown that the borough is the second-worst in the North West for diagnosing HIV in the “late” stages.

The potentially deadly disease is not being found in 74 per cent of Wigan patients until their CD4 count has slipped below 350 cells per microlitre, a stage at which the immune system is becoming increasingly weaker.

A healthy person can expect to have been 500 and 1,500 of these cells, and the disease is expected to progress to AIDS when a patient’s CD4 count drops below 200.

Prof Kate Ardern, Wigan Council’s director of public health, said: “People who test for HIV can still enjoy a long, healthy life if they test early and start the right treatment in time.

“We’re committed to ensuring people living with HIV have access to the right services and treatment with easy, accessible, stigma-free testing of HIV.”

The report, which looks at HIV in the region in 2016, has shown that only Cumbria is taking longer to diagnose HIV patients.

Despite this, the borough shows much lower rates of diagnosis than that of the UK average.

There are around 1.2 per 1,000 people with HIV in Wigan, compared to 2.3 nationwide. PHE has stressed the importance of early diagnosis, not only to treat those suffering from the illness before they experience serious immune system damage, but also to help prevent the rate of transmission.

The report states: “It has been demonstrated that the advantages of ART extend beyond personal clinical benefit.

“It is now widely understood that effective HIV treatment results in an ‘undetectable’ viral load which protects individuals living with HIV from passing on the virus to others.”

Wigan has recently announced a revamp of sexual health services, with Prof Ardern believes will help take steps towards early diagnosis and prevention. She added: “Our new sexual health services in Wigan borough will mean sexual health services, including HIV testing, will be more accessible and community-led.

“Spectrum CIC are now delivering both adult and young people’s sexual health services, and will be in the heart of communities through nurse-led clinics in seven areas across the borough.

“They will also adopt a digital focus, which could see service users self-testing for sexually transmitted diseases at home and accessing help online.”

To book an appointment or to speak with an advisor at Spectrum CIC call 01942 483188, www.sexual-health.co.uk