PHA raises awareness of safer sex ahead of World AIDS Day
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using World AIDS Day (1 December), as an opportunity to raise awareness about HIV and encourage people to practise safer sex. This comes as the PHA today publishes its ‘HIV surveillance in Northern Ireland 2016’ report, which provides analysis of the latest HIV data for Northern Ireland.
HIV/AIDS is a viral infection caused by type 1 and type 2 HIV retroviruses. It can be transmitted through sexual contact, sharing of HIV-contaminated needles and syringes, and transmission from mother to child before, during, or shortly after birth.
The report shows that although HIV prevalence in Northern Ireland remains lower than in the other UK countries, the percentage increase in annual new diagnoses here between 2005 and 2015 is highest of the UK countries. The key routes of transmission remain sexual contact involving men who have sex with men (MSM) and sexual contact between men and women.
During 2015, 103 new first-UK cases of HIV were diagnosed in Northern Ireland. 58 (56%) new HIV diagnoses occurred through MSM transmission, while 35 (34%) occurred through heterosexual transmission. Twenty-eight (29%) new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage.
In the ten years since 2005 Northern Ireland has seen an 81% increase in new cases, in contrast to the UK overall where there has been a fall of 23%.
Dr Neil Irvine, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Many people who are living with HIV have no obvious signs or symptoms. The only way of knowing if you have the virus is by taking a HIV test. It is important not to delay seeking advice and taking this test if you feel you have been at risk. The earlier the condition is diagnosed the more successful treatment is likely to be.
“People with HIV have a near-normal life expectancy if diagnosed early and treated promptly. It is estimated that the majority of onward transmission is from those with undiagnosed HIV. Once diagnosed, individuals are less likely to pass on their infection due to treatment and behaviour change, so it is essential for both the person with HIV and those with whom they may have sex that the condition is diagnosed early.
“It is also important to take steps to reduce your likelihood of contracting HIV. If you have unprotected sex, you could effectively be sleeping with everyone your partner’s ever slept with, putting yourself at risk of getting HIV or another STI .We would advise people who are sexually active to use condoms, limit your number of sexual partners and get tested if you think you might be at risk.”
The report is available at http://pha.site/HIVreport
For information, the symptoms of HIV and STIs (as well as information on conditions which may have no symptoms), and for details of Northern Ireland GUM clinics, visit www.sexualhealthni.info