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A rise in HIV cases acquired overseas sparks a health warning to travellers

Stay safe overseas: protect yourself from HIV

December 2018

A rise in HIV cases acquired overseas sparks a health warning to travellers

A rise in HIV cases acquired overseas sparks a health warning to travellers

Experts have a simple message to share with people intending to head overseas during summer: protect yourself from HIV.

Almost 200 NSW residents were newly infected with HIV between January and September this year, according to the latest quarterly NSW HIV Data Surveillance report.

It’s likely at least 55 of these people acquired HIV while overseas.

Dr Shih-Chi Kao, Manager of the HIV and Related Programs Unit at Sydney Local Health District said all types of people are at risk - men, women, heterosexuals, LGBTQI, those born in Australia and those born overseas.

There has been a continued rise in the number of newly-diagnosed overseas-born men who have sex with other men and are likely to have acquired HIV overseas, Dr Kao said.

There were 26 cases in 2014. In the nine months to September this year, there have already been 41 cases reported.

“Over the past few years, there has been an upward trend among this group which includes international students. They are one of our key target groups because of the number of university campuses in Sydney Local Health District,” he said. 

There has also been a gradual rise in the number of reported cases of HIV risk exposure among heterosexuals, who have not been the focus of traditional HIV campaigns.

Data shows there were 66 cases in 2017, up from 48 cases in 2016.

“Some older Australian heterosexual men are travelling overseas for pleasure. They often travel to countries in Southeast Asia where there’s a high prevalence of HIV,” he said.

There are simple ways people can protect themselves before setting off overseas and when they return home.

“Before you travel, make sure you pack condoms so you have them when you need them.

While getting a tattoo or a piecing overseas has become increasingly popular –because it’s often substantially cheaper than having the procedure in Australia – there may be risks involved.

“You need to check new sterile needles are used. The needles must be sealed in packaging,” Dr Kao said.  

There are different types of tests travellers can have when they return home, if they think they may be at risk of acquiring HIV overseas.

“It’s best to get a test so you know your status. People can visit their local GP or sexual health clinic for a test. There is also Dried Blood Spot (DBS) HIV test, a free, easy and confidential test you can do at home. With treatment advancement, early diagnosis gives you a better chance of living a long and healthy life.” he said.

The NSW HIV Strategy 2016 – 2020 aims to achieve the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in the state through a focus on prevention, testing and treatment.

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