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Early detection is key

Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, or HIV, is an important public health issue in Ireland. About 320 new cases are diagnosed yearly and the range of treatments available has expanded enormously over the past decades. Most people with HIV can now expect a normal life expectancy if they are diagnosed early and get the right treatment. However, we are still seeing many late diagnoses, where treatment becomes more difficult.


ne of the State’s leading experts on HIV/Aids Dr. Lambert has said testing for the condition should be a matter of

routine. Figures from the Health Protection

Surveillance Centre showed two-thirds of the 320 people who were diagnosed with HIV last year presented late with the illness. He said 90 per cent of these people had

no way of knowing they had the disease as symptoms had not manifested themselves to a sufficient extent. Symptoms which do manifest

themselves are large-scale infections and weight loss. Many people were reluctant to have the

test because of the stigma involved and because of their fear of the disease. He said public clinics carry out such

tests free and GPs will perform them for the cost of a visit, and the results are returned in a week. The treatment for HIV is called HAART (Highly Active Anti- Retroviral Therapy), which is a combination of medicines that aim to stop the virus


multiplying in the body and allow the immune system to recover. Dr Lambert stressed HIV/Aids was no

longer the death sentence it once was. However, those who present late can often have seriously compromised their immune system, and their condition becomes a chronic illness. Not everyone with HIV will go on to develop AIDS. AIDS is defined as HIV infection with a low immunity (CD4 count of less than 200) plus one of a type of opportunistic infection which occur when the immune system is weakened. The highest proportion of new HIV

diagnoses in 2011 (43%), were among men who have sex with men. MSM are the population most affected by HIV in Ireland and are the only risk group in which new HIV infections have been increasing steadily from 60 in 2005 to 136 in 2011. Heterosexuals accounted for 34% and

intravenous drug users 5%. There were three cases where the route of transmission was identified as Mother to Child, and the route was unknown for 17.5 % of new diagnoses.

A total 6,287 people in Ireland have

been diagnosed with HIV since the early 1980s. Prevention of HIV is vital-this includes

using condoms and having regular tests if you think you are at risk. Tests can also include other sexually transmitted infections. Vaccines for Hepatitis A and B are available as needed-ask your GP for advice. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine used to prevent infection if there is a significant exposure risk to HIV-for example needle-stick injury-all hospitals in Ireland provide this. Drug users should not share equipment. If a mother has HIV infection, there are medicines available to prevent the baby becoming infected, with a success rate of 98%.

The following websites have excellent information: (for global HIV statistics)

By Dr. Eithne Brenner - The Brenner Clinic

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