It said “new cases continue to be detected”, with a further 16 cases currently being tested.
The upsurge has sparked concern among clinicians and addiction organisations regarding a possible link between homeless drug users and the injection of mephedrone, the former headshop drug known as ‘snow blow’.
The drug, a powerful stimulant, is linked to risky injecting practices and sexual behaviour, in addition to mood changes.
The HSE has issued a fresh alert after it received an analysis of tests conducted on injecting drug users in Dublin city. It said the evidence showed that an increase in new HIV cases among people who inject drugs (PWID) has been occurring since June 2014.
“Fifteen confirmed and one probable case of recently-acquired HIV infection have been diagnosed in PWID in Dublin from June 2014 to June 2015,” the HSE alert said. “A further 16 possible cases in PWID are currently under investigation and new cases continue to be detected.”
The alert, seen by the Irish Examiner, said that, of the 16 confirmed and probable cases, 11 are male and five are female, ranging in age from 24 to 51.
It said that, based on discussions with clinicians and people working in addiction networks, there was “a concern about homelessness and unsafe injecting practices and/or high risk sexual behaviour” associated with the increase.
It said a mutlidisciplinary team, led by the Department of Public Health East, had been set up to investigate and respond to the increase.
“A case control study is underway to identify any association between use of snow blow leading to an increase in unsafe injecting practices, and at-risk sexual behaviour, and acquisition of HIV,” the statement said.
Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said that, in their experience, people injecting stimulants typically inject more often than those injecting heroin.
“More injecting means more risk, particularly in regard to the transmission of blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis,” said Mr Duffin.
He said there were no simple solutions. “People injecting drugs can be hard to reach, can have comorbid problems like mental health difficulties and homelessness, and can often find it difficult to access mainstream services,” said Mr Duffin.
He said it can be difficult to motivate people to get tested and treated, due to their chaotic lifestyle and due to the understandable fear of being diagnosed with an illness such as HIV.
The HSE statement said it was supplying advice to GPs, doctors, and clinicians working in addiction and homeless services, hospital clinics and outreach services.