Around 14 per cent of people with HIV in NSW may be unaware they have the virus, a statistic NSW Health and Far West Local Health District is looking to change.
As well as risking their own health, people with undiagnosed HIV infection could be unknowingly passing the virus onto others.
NSW Health will again unite for HIV Testing Week from 1-7 June and will be encouraging people at risk to have a HIV test as getting a HIV test is now easier and faster than ever before.
HIV Testing Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of HIV testing to improve health outcomes and to reduce HIV transmission. NSW Health is encouraging gay and homosexually active men and others who are at risk to get a HIV test and to test often.
“With around 11,500 people in NSW living with HIV infection, HIV testing is vital because HIV is often transmitted by people who don’t know they have the virus,” said Jo Lenton, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Far West HD Sexual Health.
“We need people in groups at risk of HIV especially to test regularly so they can receive early treatment and prevent transmission of HIV to others.”
Most new HIV infections reported in 2015 were in gay and homosexually-active men (81 per cent) with heterosexual people accounting for 15 per cent of all newly reported infections. 29 per cent of people newly diagnosed with HIV were diagnosed late during their infection, which could have been avoided with earlier testing.
The number of HIV tests done in NSW increased again in 2015 with almost 500,000 tests done, a seven per cent rise on the number of tests done in 2014.
“Communities and health professionals in NSW should be congratulated for this increase, yet more needs to be done to virtually eliminate HIV transmission by 2020. This means increasing HIV testing among both high risk and ‘unlikely patient’ groups in a broader range of health services,” said Ms Lenton.
“As well as gay and homosexually active men including those aged over 50 years, heterosexual people who may be at risk of HIV should also be tested. This includes people from countries where there are high rates of HIV, anyone with a sexual partner from a high risk country and people who have had unprotected sex while travelling in these countries. Anyone who has had unprotected sex with a high risk person should also be tested.”
All pregnant women should also be tested irrespective of risk, as treatment during pregnancy is very effective in stopping the baby from getting infected.
“Achieving high levels of testing, treatment, and maintaining safe sex practices are the key if we are to achieve our ambitious target of ending HIV transmission by 2020,” said Ms Lenton.
“During HIV Testing Week, we are encouraging people to help end HIV transmission by 2020 by getting tested. In the Far West LHD we are encouraging people to get tested with their local confidential Sexual Health Clinic through drop- in or by appointment.”
People can also request HIV testing at their GP Clinic. The driving force behind these advances is the new NSW HIV Strategy 2016-2020 which has the goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission by 2020.
To find out where to get tested go to: www.health.nsw.gov.au/sexualhealth/pages/sexual-health-clinics.aspx
For more information on HIV testing, treatment and prevention go to www.health.nsw.gov.au/endinghiv/Pages/default.aspx or call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink 1800 451 624 www.shil.nsw.gov.au .
For more information on HIV notifications in NSW in 2015 go to http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/endinghiv/Documents/q4-2015-and-annual-hiv-data-report.pdf .