Tests show high HIV prevalence
Nearly three in every 1,000 people have tested positive for HIV during a ground-breaking new screening programme.
Medics warned the prevalence rate uncovered at the Mater Hospital emergency department in Dublin is well above the one in 1,000 prevalence rate recommended by international standards.
The cutting edge Mater-Bronx Rapid HIV Testing Project (M-BRiHT) offers people who regularly attend A&E in the north inner city hospital a confidential, rapid HIV test combined with video-based counselling and information.
Dr Ger O'Connor said since the project started late last year 6,000 took part in the programme, with 4,900 opting to be tested and 14 returning positive results - 2.85 cases in every thousand.
Men and woman of all ages and from all risk groups were among those diagnosed with the early stages of the virus.
"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," said Dr O'Connor, project leader on the M-BRiHT study.
"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."
Dublin Knows Its Status is the motto of M-BRiHT, which is a collaboration between researchers at the Mater and the Jacobi Medical Centre in the Bronx in New York.
The results of their study were released as part of European HIV Testing week and ahead of Word Aids Day on Sunday.
Dublin lord mayor Oisin Quinn marked the event by getting tested for HIV during a visit to the Mater Hospital.
"The people of Dublin have offered unprecedented support to this exciting initiative," he said.
"The results show the need for increased HIV screening within mainstream healthcare.
"Everyone should know their HIV status - just like knowing your blood pressure or cholesterol."
Latest national figures show there have been 315 new cases of HIV diagnosed so far this year, including six new cases last week.
But advances in the treatment and management of the virus means that those diagnosed early who receive appropriate treatment can realistically stay healthy and expect a normal lifespan.
Patients in the M-BRiHT project watch an interactive counselling video and complete an on-screen survey that assesses risk behaviour before being offered an oral swab HIV test.
The results are available after approximately 30 minutes.
Dr Patrick Mallon, consultant in infectious diseases, said the team positively diagnosed people who would not have normally been tested for HIV.
"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 importance of the need for increased HIV testing is reflected in the first European HIV Testing Week - everyone should use this opportunity to know their HIV status."
The M-BRiHT Project is part of a three year research project coordinated through University College Dublin.