If you test frequently for HIV, you’re likely to have a better outcome if you are then diagnosed with the infection, suggests Dutch investigators reporting in the online edition of AIDS(1). The study, reported today on aidsmap.com, found that those who tested regularly for HIV but subsequently contracted the infection had half the risk of death when compared to people diagnosed at their first HIV test.

Aidsmap reports: “Patients who tested for HIV at least annually had higher CD4 cell counts at the time HIV therapy was started and lower mortality rates compared to individuals who tested for HIV less frequently.”

Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes at GMFA, the gay men’s health charity, comments on the findings: “If you are a sexually active gay man, you should get tested for HIV at least once a year – and more frequently if you have taken risks or have lots of partners. This is the message we give to gay men and it’s reinforced by these latest findings.

“Significant advances in treatments for HIV means that the outcome for those living with the virus is, thankfully, much better today. Many HIV-positive people can expect to have a life-expectancy similar to those who are HIV-negative. However, this heavily relies on getting diagnosed early.

“Going for an HIV test can be stressful. However, it’s worth remembering that not going won’t change your HIV status – it just means you won’t know what it is. If you do have HIV, avoiding finding out is not an option. If you don’t test, you will probably find out when you become ill. It will be more difficult to deal with learning you have HIV if you are ill already and your life expectancy will be reduced.

“Knowing your HIV status puts you in control. If you are HIV-negative, it will give you peace of mind. If you are HIV-positive, getting diagnosed early means you can start treatment whilst your immune system is still relatively strong, which means that you are likely to live longer.”

The study involved 5,494 patients who were newly diagnosed with HIV in the Netherlands between 2004 and 2008. The median CD4 cell count at the time of diagnosis was associated with testing history, and was lowest for those whose HIV was diagnosed at a first test (350 cells/mm3 vs 470 cells/mm3 for infrequent testers, and 550 cells/mm3 for patients who tested frequently).

You can get tested for free at a GU clinic. You can go to any clinic – it doesn’t have to be the one nearest to where you live. For listings of clinics in London and links to those across the UK, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.

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