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Number of HIV infections continues to rise in Germany

Number of HIV infections continues to rise in Germany
Number of HIV infections continues to rise in Germany

HIV-infected people have long been able to receive treatment for AIDS. The disease no longer seems as threatening as it once did. But the upward trend in infections is worrying.

Probably around 2,200 people in Germany were newly infected with HIV last year. That is a similar number to before the corona pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said in a new estimate. If left untreated, infection with the HIV virus can cause the immune deficiency disease AIDS.

The RKI estimates the figures every year. It looks at new infections in Germany and among people of German origin who became infected abroad. The reason for the publication is the World AIDS Conference, which is taking place in Munich from July 22 to 26.

Among the new infections are around 1,200 men who have sex with men. In this group, the number fell compared to 2019. According to estimates by the German AIDS Aid, the numbers were lower during the pandemic because contact bans were in place and testing options were sparse.

According to the RKI, it is also likely that HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis PrEP prevents many new infections in these men. PrEP is used almost exclusively by this group. In this prophylaxis, people with an increased risk of HIV infection take a daily tablet with two active ingredients that suppress the multiplication of the virus in the body. “The successes among gay men are encouraging, but could be even greater,” said Sven Warminsky from the board of the German AIDS Aid.

Drug use promotes the spread of HIV

380 new infections occurred through the injection of drugs with needles. “The situation has worsened with crack and the emergence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” said Warminsky. The estimated numbers from this drug use have been rising slowly but steadily since 2010. “The increase in people using drugs is worrying and urgently requires answers in prevention.” It is important to provide these people with sufficient sterile syringes and other utensils.

The AIDS service continues to see a dramatic gap in care for people without health insurance or residence permits, who often have no access to HIV treatment. “The result is avoidable AIDS cases and, since HIV remains transmissible without treatment, further HIV infections,” said Warminsky.

According to the RKI estimate, around 620 people also became infected through heterosexual contact last year. This group also saw an increase compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to Aidshilfe, however, this number is still uncertain and it remains to be seen whether there is a real increase behind it. In any case, it would make sense to also give other risk groups such as sex workers access to PrEP.

More and more infected people in therapy

Since HIV no longer usually leads to death, the number of people living with an HIV infection in Germany rose to 96,700 people by the end of last year, according to the RKI. Of these, around 8,200 HIV infections have not yet been diagnosed by experts, according to estimates.

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Almost all people with a known HIV infection now receive what is known as antiretroviral therapy: 18 years ago, the figure was around 80 percent, now it is around 99 percent. Of these therapies, around 96 percent were successful – HIV is then no longer transmissible. The RKI also points out that more mail-in and self-tests would help to reduce the number of people with undetected HIV infections.

HIV diagnoses are often only made years after the infection. The data basis for the routine overview is laboratory reports. The RKI points out that they only provide limited information on the current spread of HIV in Germany. The number of new HIV infections and the total number of people living with HIV in Germany can therefore only be estimated using model calculations.

Source: Stern

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