SOUTHAMPTON researchers are calling for men who think they might have HIV to seek help sooner after a groundbreaking study.

Researchers from the University of Southampton found the disease progresses much faster in men than in women.

They also found the disease progressed faster in people suffering from food shortages and using nutritional supplements during the 12-month study of 206 adults receiving routine care in rural South Africa.

Now researchers say more needs to be done to encourage men with HIV to seek help sooner.

The study recorded each patient’s CD4 cell count, a method of measuring a person’s immune levels as the disease progresses.

It found women would on average take three years to go from a cell count of more than 500 to less than 350 - the level required before patients received antiretroviral treatment (ART) at the time of the study, while men took just 12 months.

South Africa since changed its guidelines in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation so that patients would receive ART treatment once they had a CD4 cell count of 500 or less.

Researchers found it took just over eight months for men’s cell counts to reach this level after their first appointment, while it took women 17 months.

Dr Nuala McGrath, from the University of Southampton who lead the study, said: “The finding that time to ART eligibility was significantly shorter for men highlights the need to develop gender oriented strategies throughout HIV care in the African context."

“Firstly men are more likely to present for care with slightly lower CD4 cell counts than women and we need to find ways to get men into care earlier.

"Once in care, many individuals will become eligible for treatment within one or two pre-ART care visits, especially if visits are less frequent than the recommended six monthly intervals.”