HIV tests now part of most emergency department blood work

Provincial testing guidelines encourage primary care providers to know the HIV status of all patients, not only those deemed at risk

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day and Interior Health is reminding people that, since last December, an HIV test may be included when patients visit emergency departments and require diagnostic blood work.

Provincial testing guidelines encourage primary care providers to know the HIV status of all patients, not only those deemed at risk. The guidelines also advise that when people are sick, an HIV test should be included as part of blood work to determine a diagnosis, regardless of an individual’s HIV risk factors.

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During the past five years, Interior Health has implemented STOP HIV/AIDS, a provincial program to expand access to earlier HIV testing and provide support for individuals to start and sustain HIV medication. When people are consistently taking HIV medications, their viral load drops to an undetectable level, protecting their health by preventing progression to AIDS and AIDS-related premature deaths and stopping transmission of the virus to someone else.

“Routine HIV testing in the emergency department is one of the latest tools being used in Interior Health to end the HIV epidemic,” said says Dr. Michael Murphy, medical coordinator for the STOP HIV/AIDS program in Interior Health.

“Routine testing at a point-of-contact in the health-care system is targeted to detect those 15 per cent of HIV-positive individuals who are unaware of their HIV status. I have personally treated patients who were unaware they were HIV-positive and were diagnosed through testing in the emergency department.”

Dr. Jeff Hussey, an emergency department physician, said he sees patients needing bloodwork who have deteriorated health.

“That’s exactly the criteria to indicate that patients should have an HIV test ordered,” Hussey said.

“We have the perfect opportunity to help detect the 15 per cent of patients that are currently unaware of their HIV-positive status.”

As with other routine blood work, patients who do not wish to have the test during their emergency visit may decline.

The made-in-B.C. STOP HIV/AIDS initiative includes outreach to marginalized groups, expanding access to early testing to diagnose those living with HIV in order to improve health outcomes and reduce transmission and immediate and universal access to free antiretroviral therapy for all who are diagnosed HIV-positive.

For more information about HIV testing, go online to

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