The Age (Melbourne) (08.25.12)
Aids Weekly Plus
Victoria may become the first state in Australia to adopt rapid HIV tests due to increasing HIV infection rates in the region.
Last year, 280 HIV cases were diagnosed in Victoria, up from 233 the year before. Most infections were in men who have sex with men (MSM), with the majority in their 20s and 30s. Twenty females also tested positive, including a teenage girl.
According to Dr. Rosemary Lester, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, although increased testing may be partly responsible for the sharp increase in HIV, many men also are still having unprotected, casual sex. “A lot of them see it as a chronic manageable disease and something which isn’t to be feared the way it was 20 years ago when most people died of HIV infection,” she said.
The government is looking at rapid HIV tests to see if they would improve testing rates, said Lester. Currently in Australia, testing involves a full blood test, rather than a finger prick, and a wait of several days before getting a result. Rapid tests could also be used in community settings, making them more accessible.
Surveys show about a third of MSM are not getting tested every six months to a year, as recommended, said Dr. Mark Stoove, the head of HIV research at the Burnet Institute. More research is needed to see if the rapid tests would work in different settings locally, such as sex venues, he said. “I’m a strong advocate for community-based testing, but how that model evolves, we need to examine carefully.”
Matt Dixon, the executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council, said he does not believe men are being complacent about HIV, but thought a trial of rapid testing would help prevent more infections.