Targeted HIV screening in the emergency department


Despite considerable improvement in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) knowledge and treatment in the last 3 decades, the overall number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) is still rising with up to one quarter being unaware of their HIV status. Early HIV diagnosis and treatment prolongs life, reduces transmission, improves quality of life, and is a cost-effective public health intervention. The emergency department (ED) sees a large number of patients from marginalized and traditionally underserved populations in whom HIV is known to be more prevalent and who may not attend traditional services because of either cultural reasons or because of a chaotic lifestyle. This article discusses the two main approaches to screening; ‘Opt-out’ screening offers testing routinely in all clinical settings, and ‘Targeted’ screening offers testing to individuals presenting with indicator conditions. There are many studies of ‘Opt-out’ ED HIV screening in urban areas of high-HIV prevalence. However, little is known about the effectiveness of ‘targeted’ HIV screening, especially in areas of low prevalence. This review discusses the background to HIV screening in the ED and reviews the evidence around ‘targeted’ HIV screening in adult EDs in different HIV prevalence settings, concluding that targeted HIV screening at the ED can be impactful, cost-effective, and well accepted in the ED population, but its long-term implementation requires extra funding and increased staffing resource limiting its application in low resource setting. Despite most evidence being from areas of high-HIV prevalence, targeted screening might also be appropriate in low-HIV prevalence areas.

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MR is supported by an NHS Research Scotland Career Researcher Clinician award.

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All authors were involved in the conception of the study, analysis, and interpretation of data and drafting the article.

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Spagnolello, O., Reed, M.J. Targeted HIV screening in the emergency department. Intern Emerg Med (2021).

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  • HIV
  • Targeted screening
  • Emergency department
  • Public health
  • Early diagnosis
  • Low-prevalence areas