Terence Shuttleworth, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, practised mainly at All Saints Hospital, Chatham, Kent, until taken ill a few days ago.
The Medway Health Authority has launched an intensive search of its medical records and intends to contact all 17,000 patients who have consulted Mr Shuttleworth in his 10-year career. It will also be offering free Aids tests.
The authority, however, has emphasised that the likelihood that he passed on HIV to patients was 'extremely remote'. He is the latest member of the medical professions to contract the virus, although there are no recorded cases of it being passed on to a patient.
The authority learned of the diagnosis on Friday from the Department of Health which had been informed by the hospital caring for Mr Shuttleworth. It is not known how Mr Shuttleworth contracted the virus.
Dr Ann Palmer, the authority's director of public health, said last night that Mr Shuttleworth, who is understood to be in his thirties, would have operated only on a fraction of his 17,000 patients.
Dr Palmer emphasised that the risk to patients was 'negligible' given that it would only occur during blood-to-blood contact as 'when a doctor cuts himself during invasive surgery'.
She said: 'We estimate only 500 patients a year had gynaecological surgery and Mr Shuttleworth would probably have not been involved in the majority of those operations. The actual number of patients at any risk at all is very small indeed.
'We are looking back at our records over the past 10 years. Only those who have had gynaecological surgery are the ones who may need to seek further information.'
The district general manager, Ken Hesketh, described Mr Shuttleworth as a highly respected colleague who had performed great service in Medway. 'We are all very sorry.'
He would not comment on whether Mr Shuttleworth had contracted full-blown Aids and was on the point of death.
Mr Shuttleworth also did private work at the Alexandra Hospital near Chatham, where he treated an estimated 900 patients, and undertook occasional emergency work at the Medway Hospital.
Mr Hesketh said preparations were under way to make confidential testing available to all who wanted it. He hoped concerned patients would contact the hospital in the first instance but it would also be trying to contact all 17,000 as soon as possible.
Last night's announcement comes several weeks after an alert in Kent where it was revealed that a midwife who delivered 42 babies over a 23-month period at Farnborough Hospital, Orpington, was HIV positive.
She died in early February of meningitis and evidence of HIV surfaced in a post-mortem examination.
In May there was an alert when a junior doctor working as a trainee surgeon at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital discovered he was HIV positive after his baby son died of Aids.
The helpline numbers are: 0634 818363; 0634 814401; 0634 818272; 0634 813440.
The Alexandra Hospital advice number is 0634 687166.Reuse content