45 new cases of HIV diagnosed in 2017

Genital warts, chlamydia and herpes were most common STDs diagnosed last year

A total of 5,864 consultations at the GU Clinic took place in 2017
A total of 5,864 consultations at the GU Clinic took place in 2017

A total of 45 cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus which causes the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), were diagnosed in Malta in 2017. This is 13 less than the 58 cases reported in 2016.

Replying to a parliamentary question by Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia regarding sexually transmitted diseases, health minister Chris Fearne said that the most commonly diagnosed STDs in 2017 were genital warts, chlamydia and herpes.

There were 5,864 consultations carried out at the Genio-Urinary Clinic in 2017, Fearne said, of which 107 were for persons aged under 18.

“The Health Department is continuously increasing public awareness so that more people are tested and start receiving the necessary treatment. It is also placing a strong emphasis on contact tracing,” he underlined.

He also said that free rapid testing for HIV had been introduced to the GU clinic, and self tests were also available for the public from pharmacies.

“Apart from this, campaigns promoting sexual health are ongoing, aiming to increase safe sex practices and encourage HIV rapid testing,” Fearne explained, adding that an HIV strategy to deal with prevention, testing and long-term treatment and care was being drawn up.

HIV, genital warts, chlamydia and herpes

HIV, a virus which attacks the immune system, is spread through contact with the semen, vaginal fluid, blood or breast milk of an infected person. This can happen through sex, injection drug use with shared needles, and by mothers passing it on to their babies in the womb, during childbirth or through breastfeeding.

Since the mid-1990s, it has been successfully treated using combined antiretroviral treatment. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better the long-term health prospects. Treatment also dramatically lowers the risk of a baby becoming infected with HIV from its mother.

Untreated, HIV eventually leads to AIDS, which is fatal.

Genital warts are usually small skin growths which are spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex with an infected person, and show up around the genital and anal area. They are caused by the human papillomavirus.

There is no treatment available for the virus which causes genital warts, however, if they are causing discomfort, medication and surgery are available to help clear an outbreak. Lesions are likely to come back after being treated.

Chlamydia and herpes are also transmitted through sexual contact, and many persons infected do not have any symptoms so do not realise they have the disease.

Antibiotics can cure chlamydia, but repeat infections are common. Herpes cannot currently be cured, but there are medicines which can prevent or shorten outbreaks.