World AIDS Day: PHA puts focus on safer sex and need for testing
On 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 1,234 people in Northern Ireland living with HIV. The ‘HIV surveillance in Northern Ireland 2021’ data also shows that 60 new cases of HIV were diagnosed here in 2020. The report provides analysis of the HIV data for Northern Ireland in 2020 and trends over the years.
Dr Gillian Armstrong, Interim Head of Health Protection in Public Health at the PHA, said: “The report shows a five percent decline in new HIV diagnoses in Northern Ireland, from sixty-three in 2019, and a decline of forty-one percent from a peak of 102 new HIV diagnoses reported in 2015. It is important to note that there was a 6% reduction in HIV testing during 2020.
“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 60 new cases of HIV which were diagnosed in Northern Ireland, twenty-nine (48%) diagnoses occurred through gay and bisexual men (GBM) transmission, a twenty-one percent increase from twenty-four in 2019. Nineteen (32%) occurred after heterosexual transmission. Twenty-four (48%) new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage.
Dr Armstrong continued: “A significant number of people are still being diagnosed at a late stage of HIV, 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 are 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 to download below.
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
You can also do a home self-test kit for HIV and STIs, which is completely free, discreet and confidential. Order your kit here: www.sh24.org.uk