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New HIV infections in Australia up 41 percent from 2000, study finds
 
 
  The Associated Press
Published: October 12, 2006
 
SYDNEY, Australia New HIV cases in Australia surged more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2005, according to study results released Thursday, prompting fears that drug treatment advances are making people lax about practicing safe sex.
 
The annual survey report, issued by the National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, found that new HIV infections reported in Australia rose from 656 in 2000 to 930 in 2005 - a 41 percent leap. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
 
Gay men accounted for about 70 percent of the new cases. Heterosexuals made up 19 percent, while intravenous drug users and unknown transmission paths accounted for the rest.
 
According to the report, new infections hit an all-time high of about 1,700 in 1984, then declined steadily through the late 1990s. But in 2000, the trend apparently reversed.
 
It's not just HIV that is on the rise in Australia.
 
Around 41,300 new cases of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia were reported in 2005, a fourfold increase over 1995.
 
New gonorrhea cases have almost doubled in the past decade, the study said.
 
"It's very possible that people are just not prioritizing safe sex as they maybe used to in the very serious HIV/AIDS era" of the late 1980s and early 90s, said the center's deputy director, John Kaldor.
 
"It might be here that improvements in HIV treatments have lessened the motivation for people to protect themselves sexually," Kaldor said.
 
Australia has about 15,000 people living with HIV, and around 70 percent are being treated with life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs, the study found.
 
Don Baxter, executive director of the Australia Federation of AIDS Organizations, said widespread use of the drugs - which have been found to slow the progression of HIV to AIDS - could be a factor behind the recent rise, especially among gay men.
 
"The place of HIV in gay men's lives has receded enormously from where it was, because they and their friends have stopped dying," he said "So the level of attention to it is much reduced."
 
He said so-called "treatment optimism" could make some people more likely to take risks, or "at least rationalize having unprotected sex."
 
Australia had 22,361 reported cases of HIV as of the end of 2005. A further 9,872 people have been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS, and around 6,700 have died from AIDS, the report said.
 
The National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, an independent medical research institution, collaborates with the government on setting strategy to combat the spread of AIDS.
 
Unsafe sex drives HIV infection rate to 10-year high
 
http://www.smh.com.au
Ruth Pollard Health Reporter
October 12, 2006
 
NEW HIV diagnoses are at their highest in a decade and rates of chlamydia have increased fourfold, suggesting people of all sexual orientations are practising safe sex less often.
 
After a long-term decline, the number of new HIV diagnoses has increased over the past five years. More than 1000 new cases are expected this year, says the Annual Surveillance Report 2006, released today by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research.
 
Queensland reported the highest increase in HIV infections (48 per cent), followed by Victoria (40 per cent), South Australia (34 per cent) and NSW (20 per cent).
 
Federal Government complacency had resulted in the 41 per cent national increase in HIV infections, the executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Don Baxter, said. "Government investment in HIV prevention has remained static while the epidemic has been steadily increasing," he said.
 
"These new infections will add at least $500 million to PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] drug costs, yet we're investing less than $20 million on HIV prevention now."
 
Despite the release of the fifth National HIV/AIDS Strategy last year, the Government had yet to plan or fund a revitalised prevention program, he said.
 
Also, government funding for the two key HIV research centres had been cut by a quarter, compromising research that had guided prevention and treatment efforts over the past two decades, he said.
 
The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, said the rise in HIV infection rates was worrying, but had to be kept in perspective.
 
"Rates have risen from 656 in 2000 to 930 last year," he said. "I've asked the ministerial advisory council to carefully consider what might be causing this, what might be feasible to try to bring the rate of HIV infections down."
 
The rise in chlamydia rates - the country's most common notifiable sexually transmitted infection - over the past 10 years was also worrying, the professor of sexual health at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, Basil Donovan, said. "We have already passed the 40,000 mark nationally and there could be 200,000 extra undiagnosed infections out there," he said. "We may only be detecting one in five."
 
But pelvic infections in young women - a complication of chlamydia - have halved over the same period, he said."People are getting treated earlier and treatment has improved - it is just a single-dose antibiotic."
 
Rates of safe sex peaked in the early 1990s but, soon afterwards, heterosexuals began to realise that their risk of HIV was limited - it is mostly transmitted through sexual contact between men - and gave up using condoms regularly, he said. Australia then had one of the lowest rates of chlamydia in the world.
 
Professor Donovan is pushing for screening programs for young men to find the true rates of infection and treat more cases. For women, he proposes an active recall system, much like the Pap smear register.
 
"We are not finding enough cases to lower the prevalence. It would be cost-effective if every sexually active woman up to the age of 25 was screened annually for chlamydia."
 
 
 
 
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