High rate of undiagnosed HIV detected in Mater screening

Experts warn prevalence rate of almost three in every 1,000 is high by international standards


A screening programme based in Dublin’s Mater hospital has detected a high rate of undiagnosed HIV infection in the capital.

Nearly three in every 1,000 people who took part in the programme tested positive for HIV - a rate which is considered high by international standards.

The Mater-Bronx Rapid HIV Testing (M-BRiHT) project, a collaboration between University College Dublin, the Mater and the Jacobi Medical Centre in New York, offers people attending the hospital’s emergency department a confidential, rapid HIV test.

The test is carried by using an oral swab HIV kit and takes about 30 minutes. It shows whether the body has been making antibodies to HIV, which would signal the presence of infection.

Since it began late last year, 6,000 people have taken part in the programme, with 4,900 opting to be tested and 14 returning positive results.

The results indicate a prevalence of HIV of 2.85 cases in every thousand taking the test, higher than the 1 in 1000 prevalence rate for which experts recommend widespread screening .

Project leader Dr Ger O’Connor said: “The results show a high HIV prevalence and also that the emergency department is an ideal setting for HIV screening if implemented in the right way.”

“We want people to know their HIV status — diagnosing HIV early helps the person with HIV to get the full benefits from treatment and also can prevent unintended onward transmission.”

Patients who opt to participate in the programme watch a novel interactive counselling video, complete an on-screen survey that assesses risk behaviour.

The latest national figures show there have been 315 new cases of HIV diagnosed so far this year, including six new cases last week.

There has been an upsurge in the roll-out of HIV screening programmes in parallel with advances in treatment and management of the virus.

Those diagnosed early who receive appropriate treatment can, according to experts, stay healthy and expect a normal lifespan.

“This has been a real ground breaking advance in HIV research and one that the whole population can help with,” said Dr Paddy Mallon, consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Mater and the principal investigator on the M-BRiHT Study.

“If we can identify those with undiagnosed HIV and help prevent them from passing on the infection, we can stop this epidemic in its tracks,” he added.

The M-BRiHT project is part of a three-year research project co-ordinated through University College Dublin.

The preliminary results of the programme were released today as part of the 2013 European HIV testing week.