A sexual health consultant advises people to take precautions during the Christmas party season prompted by an ‘alarming’ increase in the number of HIV cases here in Chester.
Dr Colm O’Mahony, who works out of Fountains Medical Centre in Delamere Street, is aware revellers sometimes gamble with their health during the festive season often because their judgement is impaired due to drink.
He hopes people having casual sex will heed the advice to use a condom to ward against unplanned pregnancy but also a variety of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV as well as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Dr O’Mahony, who manages HIV cases at the Countess of Chester Hospital, said: “We have had an alarming increase in HIV here in Chester. We have had six new positives in the last eight weeks. Colleagues in North Wales also tell me that they have had four in the last month. We normally get about eight a year and here we have 10 in the space of a few weeks in this locality.
“The fear factor has gone; most of the population, particularly the young ones, do not remember the falling tombstones (TV public information ad) and think AIDS has disappeared. Charlie Sheen has helped somewhat put it back in the picture but that was only momentarily. Christmas parties are kicking off here in Chester and we will be busy for December and most of January. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and warts are bad enough but the risk of getting infected with HIV is now significant.
“In this region the incidence of HIV in adults over 16 is probably about 1:1000. Many patients have never been tested so don’t even know they are HIV positive. We currently look after about 250 but it is the undiagnosed ones that are the big problem.”
Although there is no cure for HIV, the consultant acknowledged drugs now allow people with HIV to live a long and active life. However, he highlighted that people first had to be diagnosed with having the illness by getting themselves tested.
“The population needs to be aware that the current technological advances in diagnostics mean that a full STD screen can now be done in any general practice; for men it is a urine sample and a blood sample, for women it is a self taken swab and a blood sample and this would be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. Obviously it can be done at an STD clinic if you can actually get an appointment in one. So the message is get tested either at your GP or a clinic and don’t risk regret for the rest of your life.”
Dr O’Mahony attacked the preconception that HIV was an issue for the gay community alone, pointing out of his 250-strong HIV caseload, about 100 patients were heterosexuals.
He added: “People buy a lottery ticket with a 1:1,000,000 chance of winning something but they won’t bother to use a condom when there is 1:1000 risk of picking up HIV. Knowing that you could also have passed it on to someone you now love is also an emotional nightmare. Obviously the treatments now are good but it is still a burden to carry this forever.”