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HIV - now it's our most deadly computer virus

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    HIV - now it's our most deadly computer virus - 9-Oct-2005
    Internet dating has fuelled a surge in HIV cases, raising fears New Zealand is heading for record infection rates.
    This year, a different gay man has tested positive every four days according to Aids Foundation figures.

    If that rate continues, it will beat last year's record of 73 new cases among homosexual men, up from a low of 21 in 2001. Researchers say a jump in the number of men using internet dating websites combined with longer life expectancies for HIV sufferers and complacency are behind the spike. The figures come in the same week as Wellington internet dater Justin Dalley was found not guilty of criminal nuisance. Judge Susan Thomas ruled that the HIV positive man was not legally obliged to tell his sexual partner about his condition because he had used a condom.

    Dalley met the woman who brought the case against him on the NZ Dating website.

    Aids Foundation research director Tony Hughes said the increase in infections of the past six months fitted with informal reports from the foundation's clinics which suggested this year would be a record bad year.

    "A whole lot of different things are behind the increase, effective treatments are keeping people well therefore there are more positive people around and so there is more potential risk. Also people are not seeing people in their community dying and there is a perception the threat is not as strong, and the community perception of threat is a driver of keeping on using condoms," Hughes said.

    The foundation was getting worrying anecdotal reports of a decline in condom use. "Gay men have been telling us, explicitly, that they don't think there's much to worry about these days, that HIV doesn't seem real to them, or that they try and avoid infection by methods other than condom use.

    "But there have been changes in the way gay men meet each other with the advent of the internet. What that does for an infectious disease is increase the sexual network and the more interactions in the network the more the disease can spread about."

    The number of heterosexual infections continues to increase. Unlike among gays and bisexuals, most are contracted outside of the country.

    Bruce Kilmister, chairman of the HIV support group Body Positive, said a study two years ago showed less than 20% of gay men used the internet to initiate contact for casual sex but that figure climbed to 45% this year.

    Hughes said the increasing use of the internet meant the number of gay bars in Auckland had decreased, making it more difficult to spread health promotion messages.

    "There is also an increasing drug problem, particularly in Auckland. They also combine that with the use of Viagra... at the same time as their reasoning and decision-making facilities become impaired, and that is an increasing concern," Kilmister said.

    The upswing in HIV infection rates of gay New Zealand men is mirrored across the developed world, particularly in the US.

    Before the anti-retroviral drug therapies of the late 1990s HIV positive people's health deteriorated rapidly, developing into Aids and death within as little as two to three years.

    But Aucklander Damien Moore, who has been living with HIV for four years, said medicines helped hugely despite severe side-effects.

    Moore caught the disease from an ex-partner and said it was simply careless of him to trust somebody totally.

    "I think there is a feeling there is a bit of a safety net because of the medication, but we have to keep telling people to use condoms and stop people getting HIV."
    Ref: - Sunday Star Times

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