Australia’s rate of new HIV infections has stabilised with about 1000 cases a year reported, according to the latest annual report of trends in sexual behaviour.
However, more needs to be done to identify and treat infections earlier, says the Kirby Institute at University of NSW.
“Over a quarter of the people diagnosed with HIV in Australia last year already had substantial damage to their immune system, indicating they had likely contracted their infection a number of years ago,” says Associate Professor Rebecca Guy at the institute.
“Every year that a person delays being diagnosed is a year that they miss out on treatment to help maintain healthy immune function, and a year that they are at higher risk of passing on the virus to their sexual partners.”
The report, released today at the World STI and HIV Congress in Brisbane, shows chlamydia remains the most frequently reported in Australia with the majority (78%) of diagnoses among 15- to 29-year-olds. There were 86,136 notifications in 2014.
Numbers of new gonorrhoea cases continues to increase substantially and are the highest in a decade. There were a total of 15,786 notifications in 2014. Increased testing for this infection may explain the increase.
Another sexually transmitted infection on the rise is syphilis with a total of 1999 notifications nationally, the highest since record keeping began about 10 years ago.
Rises in infectious syphilis occurred in most states over the last 5 to 10 years, particularly among gay men and Aboriginal people in remote communities.
The report highlights the success of Australia’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program which has led to the virtual disappearance of new cases of sexually transmitted genital warts in young women and a 57% drop in the rate of detection of abnormal cervical cells among young women.
Key facts from the report:
- The number of HIV infections newly diagnosed in Australia has remained stable for the past three years, with 1081 cases in 2014, 1028 in 2013 and 1064 in 2012.
- Based on these cases, the main route of HIV transmission in Australia continues to be sexual contact between men, which accounted for 70% of the cases in 2014.
- 19% of cases were attributed to heterosexual sex, 5% to sexual contact between men and injecting drug use, and 3% to injecting drug use only.
- Among cases attributed to heterosexual sex, 23% were in people born in countries recognised by UNAIDS as having a national HIV prevalence above 1%, and 16% in people with sexual partners of people born in these countries
- Among 242 women with HIV who have given birth in the five years to 2014, the transmission rate to newborns was 1.7%, compared to 32% in the period 1990–1994.
- At the end of 2014, an estimated 27,150 people (range 24,630 to 30,310) were living with HIV infection in Australia, of whom an estimated 3,350 (12%) were unaware of their HIV positive status.
The report shows that deaths related to hepatitis C have increased by 146% in 10 years, as the population with the chronic infection ages.
The rate of new hepatitis B infections is declining, probably as a result of Australia’s immunisation programs.
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