Objective: To track the complete course of the HIV epidemic among women from the city of Edinburgh who delivered babies during 1982-1995.
Methods: The performance of the modified Serodia HIV test on dried blood spots from archived neonatal metabolic screening cards stored for up to 11 years was evaluated by testing 221 cards from neonates whose mothers' HIV infection status was already known (100 HIV-positive, 121 HIV-negative). Unlinked anonymous HIV testing of cards from neonates born during 1982-1989 was then performed and the resulting prevalence data were combined with existing data from 1990-1995. Maximum and minimum limits of HIV incidence among women during the 36-month period prior to delivery were calculated using data held on a clinical database of HIV-infected pregnant women that had been generated under strict conditions of confidentiality; these data included the date of the woman's first HIV-positive and, if available, last HIV-negative specimen.
Results: The evaluation revealed a sensitivity of 91%, not clearly related to storage time, and a specificity of 100%. HIV infection first entered Edinburgh's childbearing population during the early 1980s with prevalence peaking at 0.4% in 1986 and then decreasing to 0.1% in 1995; a similar incidence profile was seen during this period. Since 1986, the first full year that HIV testing was available, 78% of all infections were known during the pregnancy, 13% were identified retrospectively, and only 10% (10 cases) remain unaccounted for. For infected cases during 1984-1987, 78% were injecting drug users (IDU) and only 22% acquired their infection sexually; this distribution had reversed by 1992-1995.
Conclusion: HIV testing of neonatal metabolic screening cards stored for up to 11 years can yield results of sufficient accuracy for epidemiological purposes. There has been a substantial decline in the prevalence and incidence of HIV since the mid-1980s. Although new infections are still occurring, the numbers are small. The decline may largely be explained by the impact of preventive measures on the spread of HIV amongst IDU, and thus from IDU to their sexual partners.