By Charlotte Tarver–The Chief Medical Officer of Northern Health is very concerned about the sharp rise in HIV cases in the northwest.
“Since June, we’re aware of 7 new cases between Terrace to the Queen Charlotte’s,” said Dr. David Bowering, “that is a jump from 10 to 17 total cases in only a few months.” From 1995 to 2006, there was about one new HIV case reported per year.
“I want everyone to be aware that the risks of contracting HIV are real and not theoretical. HIV is here now!” he continued, “and people need to behave accordingly.”
Health officials are warning islanders that the main source of new infection is through sharing needles to inject drugs. The primary risk groups for contracting HIV are people who share needles and sex trade workers. People who have unprotected sex with new partners are also at risk.
“What I believe is causing this rise in HIV is an increase in intravenous drug use. It is remarkable the demand for needles across the north and that includes the Queen Charlotte’s, Prince Rupert and Terrace,” says Dr. Bowering.
He urges communities to recognize that HIV (which causes AIDS) is not just an individual’s health problem; it is a widespread community problem. There are socio/economic factors around drug use within community cultures that allows conditions to support drug use.
People who contract HIV need to know that treatment and follow up have improved the outlook for living longer. However, HIV remains a serious life threatening disease in spite of recent improvements in treatment.
Sheila Nelson, Community Health Nurse in Queen Charlotte said, “People can live with HIV for 20 years without AIDS, until they have one of about 30 opportunistic infections.”
“People who are at risk for having HIV need to get tested at a clinic or any public health facility. Anyone can be tested anywhere in B.C.,” says Dr. Bowering.
Testing for HIV is free and confidential. People seeking testing can visit a family physician, or call Northern Health’s Public Health Nursing Departments in Masset at 250-626-3369 or in Queen Charlotte at 250-559-2350.