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Ann Emerg Med. 2005 Jul;46(1):22-8.

Emergency department HIV testing and counseling: an ongoing experience in a low-prevalence area.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA.



Despite recommendations, emergency department (ED)-based HIV screening is not widespread, and feasibility studies are generally limited to settings with high HIV prevalence (>1%). This investigation was to evaluate an ongoing, publicly funded, ED-based HIV counseling and testing program in a low-prevalence area.


We reviewed a database of patients treated by an ED-based HIV counseling and testing program at a large, urban, teaching hospital for 1998 to 2002. ED patients at risk for HIV were targeted for standard serologic testing and counseling. Data were collected prospectively using standardized forms as part of clinical operations rather than in the context of rigorous research methodology; patient-oriented outcomes were not assessed. Counselors were trained according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and health department guidelines for counseling and testing centers were followed. The main outcome measure was the number and proportion of patients newly diagnosed with HIV.


Eight thousand five hundred seventy-four patients were approached; 5,504 consented to HIV testing. Mean age was 29 years (SD 9.4 years), 76% were black, and 50% were men. Five thousand three hundred seventy-four (97.6%) patients tested negative and 39 (0.7%) patients tested positive. Seventy-five percent of negative-test patients and 79% of positive-test patients were notified of test results. Information for seropositive patients not notified of results was forwarded to the health department. All notified HIV-positive patients entered treatment. Risk factors included sexually transmitted disease (47%), multiple sexual partners (40%), unprotected sex while using drugs or alcohol (30%), men having sex with men (5%), and intravenous drug use (4%).


Identification of HIV-positive patients is possible in low-prevalence ED settings. In this instance, it was possible to perpetuate an ED-based HIV intervention program during an extended time. Although our work expands the profile of ED-based HIV counseling and testing beyond previous reports, the results should not be overgeneralized.

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