New HIV diagnoses remain at worryingly high level in Northern Ireland

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Ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has published the ‘HIV surveillance in Northern Ireland 2014’ report.

The annual number of new first-UK diagnoses made in Northern Ireland is similar to 2012, with 95 cases in 2012 and 94 cases in 2013, the year which the report covers. However, compared with the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland had the largest proportional increase in new HIV diagnoses between 2000 and 2013. Of the new diagnoses of HIV in Northern Ireland in 2013, 57% occurred in men who have sex with men (MSM). 749 HIV-infected residents of Northern Ireland received care for their HIV during 2013.

HIV/AIDS is a viral infection caused by type 1 and type 2 HIV retroviruses and 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.

Dr Gillian Armstrong, Specialist Registrar in Public Health with the PHA, stressed the importance of the safer sex message for everyone.

“The PHA wants to use World AIDS Day to raise awareness about HIV and urge people to practice safer sex, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“The statistics show that the number of people living with HIV is increasing in Northern Ireland, but we are aware that many others may also be infected with HIV without knowing it, so it is important to take steps to help protect yourself and reduce the spread of the infection.

“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. We can’t overstate the importance of testing for HIV to ensure an early diagnosis. People respond better to treatment when they are diagnosed at an earlier stage of disease.

“Knowing your HIV status is the key to both effective treatment, and to preventing onward transmission.”

The report is available at: http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/hiv-surveillance-northern-ireland-2014

Information on GUM clinics is available at: www.bit.ly/gumclinicsni