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84 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Northern Ireland last year

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During 2017, of the 84 new cases diagnosed in Northern Ireland, 45 (54%) occurred through MSM transmission, while 26 (31%) occurred through heterosexual transmission

During 2017, of the 84 new cases diagnosed in Northern Ireland, 45 (54%) occurred through MSM transmission, while 26 (31%) occurred through heterosexual transmission

During 2017, of the 84 new cases diagnosed in Northern Ireland, 45 (54%) occurred through MSM transmission, while 26 (31%) occurred through heterosexual transmission

More than 80 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Northern Ireland last year, health officials have said.

A total of 1,073 people here are living with the virus, according to the Public Health Agency (PHA).

The figures emerged ahead of World Aids Day on Saturday.

HIV - human immunodeficiency virus - is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens the carrier's ability to fight everyday infections and disease.

Currently there is no cure for HIV, but there are effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

The new PHA report revealed that there were 84 new cases of HIV diagnosed here in 2017.

Dr Claire Neill, specialist registrar with the PHA, said: "Many people living with HIV have no obvious signs or symptoms, so the only way of knowing if you have the virus is by taking a HIV test.

"It is important not to delay if you have put yourself at risk. Seek advice and take the test as soon as you can.

"A significant number of people are being diagnosed at a late stage, which means that the virus may have already had a significant impact on their health.

"The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be, so it is very important to get tested if you think there's a chance that you might have contracted HIV."

According to Dr Neill, people with HIV have a near-normal life expectancy if diagnosed early and treated promptly.

"It is estimated that the majority of onward transmission is from those with undiagnosed HIV," she added.

"Once diagnosed, individuals are less likely to pass on their infection due to treatment and changing their behaviour, so it is essential for both the person with HIV and anyone with whom they may have sex, that the condition is diagnosed early."

The main routes of transmission remain sexual contact involving men who have sex with men (MSM) and sexual contact between men and women.

During 2017, of the 84 new cases diagnosed in Northern Ireland, 45 (54%) occurred through MSM transmission, while 26 (31%) occurred through heterosexual transmission.

Thirty-one (41%) new HIV diagnoses were made at a late stage.

Urging more awareness, Dr Neill added: "People are still contracting HIV here, so I want to stress the importance of taking steps to reduce your likelihood of getting the virus.

"If you have unprotected sex, you could effectively be sleeping with everyone your partner's ever slept with, putting yourself at risk of getting HIV or another STI.

"If you are sexually active, use condoms, limit your number of sexual partners and get tested if you think you might be at risk," she said.

Belfast Telegraph