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N Engl J Med. 1988 Jun 23;318(25):1645-50.

Unrecognized human immunodeficiency virus infection in emergency department patients.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.


To determine the extent of unrecognized human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, we examined blood samples drawn from patients presenting to an inner-city emergency department. We found 119 of 2302 consecutive adult patients (5.2 percent) to be seropositive for HIV. Although 27 patients presented with known symptomatic HIV infection, 92 of the remaining 2275 patients (4.0 percent) had unrecognized HIV infection. The highest seroprevalence rate (11.4 percent) was found among black men 30 to 34 years of age. Blacks, other nonwhites, and patients under the age of 45 had high rates of unrecognized infection. The clinical team established risk-factor status in only 29.0 percent of the patients. Of the 276 patients with identified risk factors, 13.0 percent were seropositive, whereas 3.1 percent of the 1616 patients with unknown risk-factor status were seropositive. None of the 102 patients who reported no risk factors were seropositive. Although penetrating trauma (seroprevalence, 13.6 percent) was the only clinical presentation associated with an increased seroprevalence rate independent of other known predictors of infection (P = 0.02), seropositive patients were found in all categories of clinical condition. These data, although based on observations in one emergency department setting, support the concept of universal blood and body-fluid precautions by all health care workers whether or not HIV infection is known.

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