AIDS shock for region - risky sex drives cases up

HIV cases have more than doubled across the region in the past year, local doctors have revealed. 

The spike in new diagnoses of HIV across the Northern Hunter New England Health (HNEH) district was shocking given many people were already in the late stages of AIDS at the time of diagnosis, Dr Miriam Grotowski from Tamworth’s sexual health service said. 

“With early diagnosis, HIV is a chronic disease people live with, rather than die of,” she said. 

“They can basically have a normal quality and quantity of life.” 

Dr Grotowski said while the number of people living with HIV in our community was quite small, the region was in step with the national trend, where 10 per cent of Australians living with HIV were unaware they were infected. 

Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also on the rise in the New England, with gonorrhoea reports increasing by an alarming 160 per cent in the past five years.

Chlamydia reports are among the highest in the state, with Maitland and Tamworth sharing the fourth highest reported cases of the disease in 2010 in the HNEH district, according to Independent Practitioner Network chief medical officer Ged Foley said. 

“For every case of chlamydia we know about, there are four we don’t know about,” Dr Foley said. “People are unaware. They don’t know they have it and they are capable of passing on the infection.”

Dr Grotowski said HIV and chlamydia often do not show symptoms, which can prevent people from undergoing crucial tests. 

“With the chlamydia epidemic, we’re still only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she said. 

Dr Foley said the long-term health effects of gonorrhoea and chlamydia included chronic infection, pelvic pain and infertility. 

“When these are treatable, preventable diseases, this is quite a worrying trend,” he said. 

People are unwittingly spreading STIs and have become complacent with safe sex messages, but Dr Grotowski said the increased reports were also due to heightened awareness and more people being tested. 

She urged GPs to offer regular screening tests, which involve a simple blood or urine sample. 

Locals can also use a new online STI screening service – www.smarthealth.me – which allows them to book a discreet test at a local pathology centre without a GP referral.  

Tested individuals will receive a text message notifying them of their STI result and a doctor will follow up only if the test is positive.

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