OBJECTIVE: To examine the clinical presentations and management of patients presenting to an accident and emergency (A&E) department with an AIDS defining illness (ADI). METHODS: Presentations of patients in the A&E department with ADI were reviewed retrospectively. The age, sex, ethnic origin, risk factor for HIV infection, route of referral to hospital, presenting complaint, triage category, referral from A&E, admission under medical specialists, diagnosis, and survival from ADI were noted for each patient. RESULTS: 133 patients were registered at St Mary's Hospital in London with ADI during 1994. A significant minority of these patients (25/133) presented to the hospital without prior knowledge of their HIV positive status. Thirty two patients presented to the A&E department with their ADI. Of these, 13/32 (41%) were unaware of the HIV serostatus. All 13 patients had an acute respiratory disease (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or pulmonary tuberculosis). In contrast, patients aware of their HIV positive status (19/32) presented to the A&E department with a wide range of non-pulmonary ADI. CONCLUSIONS: The study emphasises the importance of respiratory complications in patients who present with a ADI to emergency departments but are unaware of their HIV positivity. These patients presented solely with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia or pulmonary tuberculosis, conditions in which early diagnosis and treatment significantly reduce morbidity and mortality.
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