More than 15,000 Canadians have HIV-AIDS but don’t know it, says a new report by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The study says about 58,000 people in Canada were living with AIDS last year, and 27 per cent were unaware of their infections, which means they could be unwittingly spreading the virus.
“If you don’t know that you’re sick, you have a much greater chance of infecting someone else,” said Ian Culbert, director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Information Centre, in an interview Monday.
Culbert said many of the undiagnosed are low-income people so preoccupied with day-to-day survival they don’t bother to get tested. Others avoid being tested because they would rather not know they are infected.
Jennifer Geduld of the agency said the esosed cases is based on computer modeling
The report found that aboriginal people have very high rates of HIV infection, a problem that is attributed to a range of problems including poverty, lack of awareness of the risks, and injection drug use.
“Aboriginal Canadians account for three per cent of the population and nine per cent of new infections,” said Culbert. “You’re three times more likely to be infected with HIV if you’re an aboriginal person in this country and those are absolutely unacceptable rates.”
Nina Arron of the Public Health Agency said the agency is working with aboriginal associations to combat the problem.
The report also shows that people from countries where HIV is endemic have an infection rate almost 13 times higher than average, but the agency claims they don’t constitute a threat to public health.
Overall, the rate of new HIV infections in Canada continues to rise despite millions of dollars being spent on education and prevention. The number of new infections last year is estimated at 2,300 to 4,500, up from 2,100 to 4,000 in 2002.
The total number of people living with AIDS increased about 16 per cent from 2003 to 2005, due to new infections and the fact that victims are living longer due to better drug treatment.
Most at risk are homosexual men and injection drug users.
Frank Plummer, director general of infectious disease control at the Public Health Agency, insisted that prevention programs are working, but acknowledged more needs to be done.
“I think we’re doing a lot of things right, otherwise the situation would quite likely be quite a lot worse.”
There has been speculation that people may be neglecting safe-sex practices because they believe that AIDS is now curable. In fact, new drugs have greatly improved survival rates but the disease remains very serious and costly to treat.
The new data will be on the agenda at the International AIDS conference to take place in Toronto Aug. 13-18.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD