Queensland sees spike in HIV infections
Queensland has reported a spike in new HIV infections since the beginning of the year. 93 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2014, up 34 percent on the same period last year.
Dr Andrew Redmond from HIV Foundation Queensland told the ABC he is unsure why Queensland has experienced the sudden rise in infections but speculated perhaps the increase in the number of people testing for the virus could result in higher infection notifications.
"Why we're getting more positives now it's hard to know. We're really trying to test people who are of high risk of HIV, and it's certainly possible that if we're going to test people of high risk, we're going to get more positive tests or it might be the rates are just really going up,” he told ABC.
Image; Professor Holt slide on HIV testing over past decade
The advent of Rapid HIV Testing which was first rolled out in Queensland last year has removed significant barriers to testing. The simple swab test allows for a result within 30 minutes.
According to Redmond, most new infections in Queensland were from Australian-born men who had sex with men.
Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) spokesperson John Mikelsons agrees with Redmond’s assessment that the spike in HIV infections could relate to increased testing. He told GNN the reason for the rise in infections could be twofold.
“One is the increase in testing and I applaud the Queensland government’s initiative to roll out Rapid HIV Testing across the state, the other driver is behavioural. Where we see increases in the proportion of gay men who have sex without condoms that is usually followed by an increase in the HIV transmission rates,' he said.
“And what we know from the Gay Periodic Survey is there has been an increase in testing and an increase in sex without condoms. I would say the safe-sex message is not as effective as it used to be. That is a wake-up call for QuAC and everyone in the HIV health sector on how we target gay men when it comes to safe sex.”
Image: Slide from Professor Holt's research on behavioural trends
Mikelsons suggested to end HIV transmission the gay community needed to rally on the issues of testing early, treating and staying safe.
“Gay men have to mobilise and come together to test more regularly and continue the strong tradition of practicing safe sex. And HIV positive people now have the opportunity to treat earlier than ever before. We would encourage all of those people to come together for our community and we would encourage government, clinicians and affected communities to work together on this problem.”
Mikelsons told GNN he would rather look at trends, than one year and part year figures. Citing Professor Holt’s report on behavioural trends amongst Australian gay men over the past decade, Mikolson commented, “What we do know is that HIV infection amongst gay men in Queensland has been steadily increasing and over the past few years and we’ve seen a significant rise in anal sex without condoms in the past two years.”