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New HIV infections on the rise in Ottawa

Consistent condom use lower than Ottawa Public Health would like

Ottawa has seen a spike in the number of reported HIV cases in men in 2011, according to Ottawa Public Health (OPH). In the first four months, 32 cases were reported, compared to 70 new infections in all of 2010.

The numbers reflect both heterosexuals and men who have sex with men (MSM), Andrew Hendriks, program manager of the Sexual Health Unit at public health, writes in an email.

“The proportion of HIV cases among MSM has been consistent since 2010 and 2011,” Hendriks writes. “We are seeing an increase in HIV cases in young  men, aged 20 to 24.”

He says that, according to OPH data, HIV testing has not increased this year, and that OPH is planning to do an awareness campaign during Pride to promote anonymous HIV testing.

Hendriks says that any increase in STIs, including HIV, is a concern to OPH. He says that health officials do not believe consistent condom use is at the levels they would like.

“We are hoping the stats will inform people that HIV is still an issue in Ottawa and that we need to remain persistent in building capacity to support safer sex, working with partners and addressing the stigma associate to HIV,” writes Hendriks.

OPH began a study of gay men and MSM in February. The study is the result of the high-profile arrest of an Ottawa man based on accusations that he failed to disclose his HIV status before having unprotected sex.

According to Vera Etches, associate medical officer of health for OPH and chief investigator on the study, OPH saw this as an opportunity to learn from the community how this type of incident affects behaviour.

The study will look at the various testing practices, such as anonymous versus nominal (name-based) testing, that occurred four weeks after the incident in May 2010 and for four weeks afterward. The results will then be compared to the results in the same time period the previous year.

OPH is still looking for volunteers to come forward to be interviewed for the study. All interviews will be confidential and neither the police nor public health will have access to any discussion between the research assistant and participants.

The research project is expected to wrap up sometime in the fall.