HIV infection rate among gay men in Hong Kong 'worrying'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 8:53am

There were 123 new HIV infections reported in the second quarter of the year and 22 Aids cases - with the infection rate among homosexual men described as "worrying" by the consultant for the government's special preventive programme.

Sexual contact between men accounted for 58 of the 123 new infections of the immunodeficiency virus.

It also accounted for 10 of the new Aids patients, who have HIV plus an "Aids-defining illness" such as tuberculosis.

The statistics come from the HIV reporting system, which has been monitoring the Aids epidemic since Hong Kong diagnosed its first HIV infection in 1984.

Since then, 6,045 people have been diagnosed as HIV-positive and 1,387 have been diagnosed with Aids.

In 2003, the total number of new HIV infections reported for the whole year was 229.

"An increase of HIV infection among [the male homosexual community] is very apparent and it's worrying," said Dr Wong Ka-hing, consultant of the Health Department's preventive programme.

He added that the figures had been increasing since 2005, saying: "The whole world is dealing with this trend, and efforts to curb the epidemic have not been very successful."

Wong also suspects that 20 to 25 per cent of people who are HIV-positive or have Aids are not aware of their condition, based on studies done overseas. While correctly using a condom could prevent the contraction or spread of the virus, usage among the gay community was still low, said Wong. A 2011 study showed that only 40 per cent of the men in the gay community had been tested for HIV in the past year.

He urged high-risk groups to go for testing at least once a year. Heterosexual and homosexual men accounted for around 85 per cent of new HIV and Aids cases - a figure similar to previous years.

Transmission through heterosexual sex remained stable (27 new HIV cases and seven Aids cases), and by injecting drugs and through blood transfusion (three new HIV cases). Another six cases occurred among bisexual people, and the causes of the remaining cases remained unknown.

The highest quarterly figure occurred last autumn, with 140 new cases, followed by 139 cases in the first quarter of this year.

Lack of understanding about the virus and social stigma often led to late diagnosis and therefore late treatment, Wong said.

Despite government campaigns to raise awareness, many people still did not know how to take preventive measures.

"If HIV is treated early, the illness and mortality rate go down by 90 per cent," Wong said.

Once infected with the virus, sufferers can go on to develop full-blown Aids. People with Aids contract one or more "Aidsdefining illnesses" - the most common one in Hong Kong being pneumocystis pneumonia, a fungal infection of the lungs, explained Wong.

HIV tests are available free at the government's Public Health Laboratory Centre. Testing is also available at public social hygiene clinics and private clinics.

The government also provides a free, anonymous and confidential hotline.