Volume 37, Issue 5 (September 1992)
Surveillance of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Antibodies in Medicolegal Autopsies in Finland—Monitoring Early Changes in HIV-Seropositivity Among Risk Groups and Average Population
In order to cooperate with voluntary screening programs aimed at the surveillance of the HIV epidemic in Finland, we have studied medicolegal autopsies for HIV antibodies since 1986 using an enzyme immunoassay on postmortem sera. The investigation covered 47.4% and 39.2%, respectively, of all deaths under the age of 65 years in the metropolitan areas of Helsinki and Turku—two cities on the densely populated southern coast of Finland from which most HIV infections have thus far been detected.
Nine HIV-positive cases (0.12%) were detected among the 7305 medicolegal autopsies tested in 1986 to 1990. This figure is higher than the prevalence of 0.01 to 0.03% in voluntary screening programs for the general population would suggest. Seven of our cases had previously tested positive, and two were previously unknown cases, indicating that people at high risk are clustered in the medicolegal autopsy series. Of the six cases in an early stage of infection, three committed suicide suggesting the importance of HIV-screening in suicide cases in tracing symptomless HIV carriers.
Five of the cases were detected in 1990, a year when the number of new HIV infections had more than doubled compared to the previous two years. This suggests that testing of medicolegal autopsies as surrogate tests for the population gives useful information even in low-prevalence areas like Finland. Such testing has none of the ethical problems of many other back-up surveys, and may be particularly sensitive to early changes in epidemiology.