Tests to uncover HIV infections

By Kathryn Powley

Jonathan Smith says early diagnosis is vital. Photo / Janna Dixon
Jonathan Smith says early diagnosis is vital. Photo / Janna Dixon

Kiwi researchers are close to revealing how many people are undiagnosed with HIV after a sweep of gay clubs for saliva samples.

It is thought that many infected people are unaware of their illness and aren't getting tested - and HIV diagnosis rates among gay men are increasing worldwide.

Researchers took mouth fluid swabs from 1000 anonymous gay and bisexual men at Auckland gay venues in February and results are due out in the next two months.

In the US, about 25 per cent of infected gay or bisexual men don't know they have HIV; in the UK that rate is 30 to 40 per cent and in Australia about 30 per cent.

Hans Versluys, 53, was swabbed at Auckland's Centurian sauna as part of the study and said the research was a positive move.

"I think it is a good thing the way they've gone about it, by going to the places where they would find that kind of audience. There was some trust."

Jonathan Smith has had HIV for 17 years. He counts himself lucky. Smith, 57, was fortunate to have been diagnosed with the virus within a month of contracting it from a man he thought was his monogamous partner. That early diagnosis meant his illness could be managed.

Smith was tested at the same time as his partner, Gary, who by then was already sick and died within nine months. Smith said early diagnosis for him made all the difference.

"The sooner they catch it, the less damage is done to the immune system. If they can get on to it very quickly and put you on to medication or watch the virus, they will actually be able to look after your immune system a lot better."

But he said many young people seemed complacent about HIV. "If you look at 19 and 20-year-olds, they might think they're immune to it. I think they think there are drugs out there that fix it immediately." But side-effects included daily nausea, diarrhoea and problems with wasting. He'd also suffered kidney problems.

Peter Saxton, lead researcher in the Auckland mouth swab study and doctoral fellow at Otago University's Aids epidemiology group, said the samples had been tested in Melbourne.

For information on living with HIV, go to www.bodypositive.org.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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