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Home > New data on the incidence of HIV.

Long, Jean (2008) New data on the incidence of HIV. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 27, Autumn 2008, p. 18.

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HIV (subsequently known as HIV1) was identified in 1981 and HIV2 was identified in 1986. The virus attaches itself to the CD4 particle of the T-lymphocytes. These T-lymphocytes co-ordinate the body’s immune response. HIV may lead to a condition known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This condition generally occurs when the CD4 count is below 200 per millilitre and is characterised by the appearance of opportunistic infections. Such infections take advantage of a weakened immune system. The HIV virus is found in all body fluids and is transmitted via sexual intercourse (both heterosexual and homosexual), mother to foetus and baby, infected blood and blood products and procedures with unsterile needles, syringes and skin-piercing instruments. Best evidence available to date indicates that once an individual is infected he or she remains infected for life.

 Voluntary linked testing for antibodies to HIV has been available in Ireland since 1985. According to the most recent report of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), at the end of 2007 there were 4,781 diagnosed HIV cases in Ireland, of which 1,381 (29%) were probably infected through injecting drug use.1

Figure 1 [SEE PDF] presents the number of new cases of HIV among injecting drug users, by year of diagnosis, reported in Ireland; data from 1982 to 1985 were excluded from the figure as these four years were combined in the source records. Figure 1 is based on data reported to the Department of Health and Children, the National Disease Surveillance Centreand its successor, the HPSC.2 There was a fall in the number of new cases between 1994 and 1998, with about 20 cases per year, compared to about 50 cases each year in the preceding six years. In 1999 there was a sharp increase, which continued into 2000, with 69 and 83 new cases respectively. Annual figures for the next seven years were lower than the 2000 figure, but did not return to the levels of the mid-1990s. It was difficult to interpret the trend because of the relatively small numbers diagnosed each year, so a smoother curve (red plot line in Figure 1) was calculated using a rolling centred three-year average. This curve presents a true increase in the annual number of HIV cases in 1999; this higher level of cases was sustained between 2000 and 2007 and a new baseline derived.

  Of the 54 new HIV cases among injecting drug users reported to the HPSC in 2007, 35 were male and 15 were female and the average age was 31 years. All 39 cases for whom place of residence was known lived in the HSE Eastern Region (Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow).
This HPSC report confirms the need, emphasised by the authors of the report on the 2004 data, to continue to promote the use of harm reduction measures among injecting drug users. (Jean Long)
1.    Health Protection Surveillance Centre (2008) Newly diagnosed HIV infections in Ireland: quarters 3 & 4 2007, and 2007 annual summary. Dublin: Health Service Executive.
2.    Long J (2006) Blood-borne viral infections among injecting drug users in Ireland, 1995 to 2005. Overview 4. Dublin: Health Research Board.

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