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Delayed HIV
diagnosis in African youth leads to serious illness

Delayed HIV
diagnosis in African youth leads to serious illness

Undiagnosed HIV infections are causing serious health problems for adolescents in Zimbabwe, according to a new study in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The average delay between first serious illness and HIV diagnosis was found to be 3.5 years, even though 75% of parents suspected HIV. The result: organ damage, chronic ill health, stunted growth, and other problems.

"We suspect that there is a substantial and growing burden of long-standing HIV infection and AIDS in this age group," said lead author Rashida Ferrand, MBBS, MRCP, DTMH, in a release. "A delayed diagnosis means that patients present late in the course of HIV infection, by which time they may already have significant and irreversible damage to vital organs such as the heart and lungs, plus an increased risk of serious opportunistic infections with high mortality."

Ferrand and her colleagues from London and Zimbabwe studied 32 adolescents from the Connaught Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe. By the time the youths sought care, many had chronic skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal symptoms. More than 40% of the adolescents had taken cotrimoxazole, an antibiotic given to HIV-infected children to prevent pneumonia and other infections, which indicates that health care providers also suspected HIV infection.

Early diagnosis of HIV infection is paramount to stave off a higher risk of death and disease progression. Earlier treatment is also crucial. Previous studies show treatment is less effective if started in patients who have advanced disease. (The Advocate)

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