HIV still in sights for New England health workers

HEALTH: Hunter New England Health’s Nathan Ryder said the risks of being in the dark on HIV could lessen life expectancy.
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HIV remains a target for health care workers across NSW, where an estimated 14 per cent of people affected are still unaware they carry the manageable disease.

Hunter New England director of sexual health Nathan Ryder said the risks of not knowing include a potential shorter life expectancy, and danger of infecting others. Nathan was part of the campaign to raise awareness of HIV’s presence in our New England communities in 2015.

The initiative resulted in almost 500,000 tests taken last year, a 7 per cent annual rise, but Nathan said there is still work to be done to strive for HIV eradication by 2020. “We still find the majority of cases in men who have male partners, and heterosexuals who have high risk factors, such as sex overseas,” he said.

”But really we’re also trying to have a big push toward finding those unlikely patients who might be attending their general practitioner for years, and never thought about doing an HIV test.” He said reasons for testing should be considered, such as unprotected sex with a new partner.

“(They) should talk with their doctors about whether an HIV test might be warranted,” Nathan said.

“The other situation is for people to be aware of any sort of long-term unexplained illnesses to have HIV testing in the midst of testing that would be done to try and work out what the cause of that is.”

Nathan said the peril of a late diagnosis, which he said was generally found in older people, is missing out on the benefits of early treatment.

“In terms of long life expectancy and a good quality of life. It’s also obviously putting their partners at risk, and no one wants to have a situation when they’re infecting another person unknown to them.”

Nathan said more general practitioners and health workers are encouraging patients to make an HIV test routine in cases where any suspicion might be present, though it is not yet a routine screening across the board.

“What we really want to do is lower that threshold so that HIV testing doesn’t become something that is only done in certain people, that it’s just a routine part of a sexual health checkup for those who have put themselves at risk in some way,” he said.

“Early diagnosis is really the key to successful treatment of HIV, so that people live longer, healthy lives.”

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