After reaching a peak in 2009, the Saskatchewan rate of new HIV infections has been stable during the last three years. 177 new cases were reported in 2012 compared to 200 in 2009.
It is estimated that 26% of Canadians living with HIV are unaware of their status. In Saskatchewan, almost 67% of new HIV cases are associated with intravenous drug use; sexual transmission also plays a major role in the transmission of HIV. For as many as 9 years after infection (or less depending on many factors), HIV essentially may not cause symptoms whilst the infected person is capable of unknowingly spreading it. Untreated HIV infection works by progressively destroying the infected person’s immune system, eventually leading to severe and often fatal infections.
“HIV testing is crucial because the infection may be unsuspected for many years,” said Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, Medical Health Officer for Sunrise Health Region. “The sooner after infection treatment is initiated, the more the chances of success. It is essential for every adult who does not know their HIV status to have a HIV test.”
When HIV was discovered more than 30 years ago, it was considered more of a fatal disease as there were no medications capable of altering its course. However, in the past decade there has been significant progress made in availability of HIV medications. These medications do not cure HIV but when taken adequately under the supervision of a qualified professional, they suppress and maintain HIV at a level where it no longer leads to opportunistic infections, at the same time making it less transmissible as a result of low or undetectable viral load.
“Today, people living with HIV who are adequately treated lead productive lives and enjoy life expectancy identical to that of people free of HIV,” adds Dr. Nsungu. “Furthermore, people who know they are infected with HIV are most likely to take precautions in order to minimize further spread of the illness.”
Clients are never alone in this process. They are provided with pre and post-test counseling to help them understand the implications of the test and its results. Should treatment be required, clients also get assistance in navigating the health system as to maximize chances of adherence to treatment.
Information on HIV testing is available from family physicians and nurse practitioners or by contacting the Sunrise Health Region Public Health Office at 306-786-0600.