World AIDS Day: PHA puts focus on safer sex and need for testing
Ahead of World AIDS Day (1 December) the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging everyone to practise safer sex and get tested early if they have put themselves at risk.
A new report from the PHA shows that there are 1,130 people in Northern Ireland living with HIV. The ‘HIV surveillance in Northern Ireland 2019’ report also shows that 84 new first-UK cases of HIV were diagnosed here in 2018. The report provides analysis of the HIV data for Northern Ireland in 2018 and trends over the years.
Dr Claire Neill, Specialty Registrar in Public Health at the PHA, said: “The report shows a four percent increase in the number of people living with HIV in Northern since 2017 (1,085). Ninety-eight percent of those receiving care, and where route of transmission was known, acquired their infection through sexual contact.
“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.”
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.
Of the 84 new first-UK cases of HIV which were diagnosed in Northern Ireland, 43 (51%) occurred in men who have sex with men (MSM), while 31 (37%) occurred after heterosexual transmission. Thirty (42%) new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage.
Dr Neill continued: “While there has been a small reduction in late diagnoses of HIV, a significant number of people are still being diagnosed at a late stage, which means that the virus may have already had a significant impact on their health. It is estimated that the majority of onward transmission is from those with undiagnosed HIV. So, it is really important for people to get tested early if they think they have put themselves at risk.
“People with HIV have a near-normal life expectancy if diagnosed early and treated promptly. Once diagnosed, individuals are less likely to pass on their infection due to treatment and changing their behaviour.
“It is also important to stress the importance of taking steps to reduce your likelihood of contracting the virus. 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 and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you are sexually active, use condoms, limit your number of sexual partners and get tested quickly if you think you might be at risk.”
The report is available at www.pha.site/HIVreport2019 (will be available at 00.01on 29/11/19)
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 and www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/sexual-health