Record numbers of NZ gay, bisexual men diagnosed with HIV

By Hayden Donnell

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Record numbers of gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand last year, new statistics show.

The AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago found 90 new infections of the virus which can lead to AIDS among gay and bisexual men in 2010.

That contrasted with record low rates of new infections among heterosexuals, who accounted for just 35 of the 149 new HIV diagnoses made through antibody testing.

One child - born in 2006 - was diagnosed with HIV contracted from their mother in 2010.

A further 39 people were diagnosed with AIDS. Of those, twenty-five were men infected through sex with other men, 11 through heterosexual sex, one through injecting drugs, and two where the means of infection was unknown.

New Zealand Aids Foundation director Shaun Robinson said the statistics showed the HIV epidemic had never been worse for New Zealand's gay community.

It raised "grave concerns" for the safety of gay and bisexual men, he said.

"Not even in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s were rates of infection this bad in New Zealand."

Mr Robinson said 15 of the 23 people for whom the cause of HIV transmission was still unknown were likely to be gay or bisexual men.

That would make 2010 the worst year for new infections among gay and bisexual men in history, he said. The previous peak was 93 in 2008.

He called for more HIV testing to make sure the disease is diagnosed while it is still in its early stages.

"These men may have had HIV and been sexually active for a long time before they were diagnosed which means they missed out on treatment and were also likely to be more infectious.

"This situation could have been avoided by regular HIV testing."

However, he was encouraged by the lower rates of HIV infection among heterosexuals in New Zealand.

Having just 35 new infections was remarkable considering new cases of the disease among heterosexuals reached a record high of 87 in 2006, he said.

"That's great news for heterosexual New Zealanders and it should be a cause for celebration."

There have been 3474 people diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand - 678 of whom have since died.

It is estimated there are 1800 people with HIV still living in the country.

Mr Robinson said those 1800 people had been "needlessly infected".

HIV/AIDS is preventable through the use of condoms and lube and regular testing ensures people get treatment and don't infect others, he said.

"We will be increasing our efforts to make this a widespread community norm."

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