The number of new HIV diagnoses in Australia remains the highest seen for the last 20 years, according to the Annual HIV Surveillance report released today at UNSW’s Kirby Institute Annual Symposium.
In 2013, 1235 new cases of the virus were diagnosed and reported across Australia, continuing similar infection rates from the previous year (in 2012 there were 1253 new infections).
While the rates in the past two years have remained stable, the number of cases detected in 2013 represents a 70% increase over the number of cases in 1999, when diagnoses were at their lowest.
There are now an estimated 26,800 people living with HIV in Australia, according to the national report compiled by UNSW’s Kirby Institute.
Around one in seven Australians with HIV do not know they have the virus, according to estimates in the report.
There are large numbers of people continuing to be diagnosed late. Around 30% are diagnosed well after they should have started treatment to restore their damaged immune system.
“In some cases, people are living for several years without knowing they are HIV-positive,” said the Kirby Institute’s Associate Professor David Wilson. “This is a double concern: for their own health and that they could be passing the virus on to others.
“If people wait a long time before getting diagnosed, or if they do not start treatment once diagnosed, it is not as easy to recover,” said Associate Professor Wilson.
Victoria recorded a 16% increase in HIV notifications and the largest increase in cases in 2013 (365 cases, up from 314 in 2012). No jurisdiction has a long-term decreasing trend but some states are starting to experience stabilising trends.
The report shows that around 60% of people with HIV were on treatment that restores their immune system and reduces the risk of spreading the virus.
“This is higher than almost anywhere else in the world and a great achievement,” said Associate Professor Wilson. “In comparison, around 25% of people with HIV in the United States are on suppressive therapy.”
Another report shows unprotected anal intercourse among casual male partners continued to be a key driver of HIV transmission among gay men in Australia.
The Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour, produced by UNSW’s Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) found that in this group, rates of unprotected anal intercourse with casual partners have increased over the past decade. More than 35% of men with casual partners in the six months prior to the survey reported the practice, with rates close to 60% among HIV-positive men with casual partners.
The annual HIV testing rate among gay men who are not HIV positive is around 60%, according to the report. The rate is falling particularly among those who are under 25 years of age.
“Innovative and concerted efforts are urgently needed to reduce a new wave of HIV infection particularly among young gay men,” says the report co-author, Dr Limin Mao, who is based at UNSW’s CSRH.
(Source: UNSW, Annual HIV Surveillance report)