Increases in HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea in Ireland in men who have sex with men (MSM)
Latest annual reports on HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and preliminary data for the first 6 months of this year, published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show increases in notifications of HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea in Ireland, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM).
While the number of cases of most STIs remained relatively stable in 2015 compared to 2014, the multisectoral national group established early in 2016 to respond to these recent increases has expressed concern about a 50% increase in syphilis, and a 30% increase in HIV cases in 2015. Although some of the increase in HIV can be explained by a change in the notification procedures for HIV and an outbreak in people who inject drugs, these increases have largely been seen in men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM account for four fifths of the syphilis cases, and more than half of the HIV cases. For HIV, an increasing proportion of MSM born abroad, and particularly from Latin America, who were HIV positive before coming to Ireland, has contributed to this. There are also increases in the number of MSM from abroad who report acquiring HIV in Ireland.
In addition, although gonorrhoea numbers in 2015 were similar to 2014; latest data for 2016 show that gonorrhoea rates in men have risen by 63%. This has been seen only in men, suggesting that this increase is occurring mainly in MSM. In 2015, 55% of cases of gonorrhoea were in this group.
A recent survey on sexual behaviours in MSM in Ireland (MISI 2015), reported that 25% of men have had condomless anal intercourse with more than one partner in the last year, posing a risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV and STIs. Thirty-seven percent of men had never been tested for HIV and 38% had never been tested for an STI.
Promoting condom use and regular testing remain key to limiting the spread of HIV and STIs in men who have sex with men.
The Gay Health Network along with the HSE and other partners, including peer groups, are continuing to promote sexual health awareness, encourage testing and support safer sex among MSM through the www.man2man.ie programme. The Gay Mens Health Service is offering a new clinic in Dublin on Monday afternoons, on a pilot basis, to improve access to testing for MSM. Furthermore, in partnership with the Gay Health Network, outreach workers are being employed on a pilot basis to deliver peer support and interventions among the MSM community, in particular among Latin American MSM in Dublin.
Safer sex using condoms is an effective way of preventing HIV and other STIs. Men who have sex with men and who have taken a sexual health risk are encouraged to get tested for HIV and STIs. Details of free HIV and STI testing services, condoms, support and information are available at www.man2man.ie or from Gay Switchboard Ireland or firstname.lastname@example.org.