New cases of HIV hit highest levels in five years

New HIV cases have reached their highest point in five years — with a record number of infections among gay men and a major increase among injecting drug users.

Publishing the figures in advance of Irish Aids Day today, the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said efforts to combat the continuing rise among gay men “need to be sustained and strengthened”.

Advocacy group HIV Ireland said the rise in new infections was a “great cause of concern” and said public debate on HIV and Aids was “being deafened by silence”.

The HPSC HIV in Ireland 2014 report shows there were 377 new cases last year, compared to 341 in 2013, a rise of 11%. It is the highest number since 2009. There has been a further 168 cases to date this year.

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Within the main groups, the figures report:

  • 183 new cases among men who have sex with men (MSM), compared to 158 in 2013 (up 16%) — the highest number on record;
  • 125 infections among heterosexuals, compared to 131 in 2013, and the lowest on record;
  • 27 cases among people who inject drugs (PWID), compared to 21 in 2013 (up 29%) — the highest since 2009.

The HPSC report said that new infections in MSM had “increased threefold” since 2005, but that among 25-to 29 year-olds the rise was “fivefold”.

In almost a fifth of MSM cases, the person was co-infected with an acute sexually transmitted disease.

“In light of the continued increase in new HIV diagnoses among MSM, effective interventions such as promoting condom use, and peer-led outreach interventions that provide information and support to the MSM community, need to be sustained and strengthened,” said the report, which also said 58% of heterosexual cases were born in sub-Saharan Africa.

In contrast, 85% of new PWID cases were Irish-born. The report said it was concerned at the rise in new infections in this group and, as reported in the Irish Examiner last month, the director of public health in Dublin was looking at the rise. More than half of PWID cases involved women, with their numbers rising almost five-fold between 2012 and 2014.

Niall Mulligan, executive director of HIV Ireland, called for the publication of a National Sexual Health Strategy and praised the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme and the National Condom Project. Mr Mulligan welcomed HSE support for the joint Gay Health Network/HSE Man2Man programme, but said it must be properly resourced.

hpsc.ie; hivireland.ie; man2man.ie

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