Objectives: To describe the proportion of HIV-infected heterosexual individuals diagnosed late and estimate how much mortality could have been prevented by earlier diagnosis.
Design: A population-based study using surveillance reports from England and Wales.
Methods: Calculation of proportions diagnosed late (CD4 cell count < 200 cells/mul) and short-term mortality (death within a year of diagnosis).
Results: A total of 16 375 heterosexual individuals were diagnosed with HIV (2000-2004): 10 503 with CD4 cell counts available at that time; 42% (4425) were diagnosed late. Late diagnosis increased with age (P < 0.01). One fifth of women diagnosed antenatally were diagnosed late compared with 42% of other women and 49% of men; 70% of all heterosexuals diagnosed were black Africans, born and infected in Africa. Of those, at least 40% were recent arrivals to the UK, and twice as many were diagnosed late as black-African heterosexuals infected in the UK. Short-term mortality was 3.2% (491/15 523); 6.1% among those diagnosed late and 0.7% among others (P < 0.01). Short-term mortality was lower among black-African compared with white heterosexuals (3.1 versus 4.5%; P < 0.01) because of diagnosis at a younger age. Earlier diagnosis would have reduced short-term mortality by 56% (249 fewer deaths) and all mortality by 32% between 2000 and 2004.
Conclusion: Groups at high risk of late diagnosis should be targeted for health promotion activities, opportunistic screening, and removal of any barriers to testing. HIV testing in a variety of settings would reduce missed diagnoses and costs. New patient checks in primary care may provide the earliest opportunity to diagnose HIV infection among recent arrivals to the UK.