STAY SAFE: Hunter New England Health clinical director of sexual health Dr Nathan Ryder … “HIV is certainly not a death sentence. But the key is testing and early diagnosis”. Picture: Marina NeilDATING appshave made it easier to find sexual partners, butexperts say they are unlikelyto blame for the increased rates ofsexually transmitted infections in the Hunter region.
Cases of gonorrhea reported in the Hunter New England Health area have jumped from 224 in 2015to 338 this year, and there have been 2579 notifications of chlamydia, up from 2438 at the same time last year.
But Hunter New England clinical director of sexual healthDr Nathan Ryder saidthe numbers may reflect an increase in people seeking health care.
“We tend to think it is because people are getting tested more often, which is a good thing,” he said. “It is not clear whether there is an underlying cause for the increase or not. There is no evidence that the increased use of dating apps is associated with increased rates of infection.”
Ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, Dr Rydersaid 400 to 500 people in the Hunter New England area were living with HIV.
While the majority of people diagnosed aregay men,one in six people diagnosed with HIV in NSW were heterosexual, andat least 10 per cent of people with HIV do not know they have the virus.
Dr Ryder said because many heterosexual people did not consider themselves at risk, they wereoftendiagnosed late and hadworse health outcomes as a result.
“HIV iscertainly not a death sentence. But the key is testing and early diagnosis,” Dr Ryder said.
Dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr could present a problem when people discovered they had a sexually transmitted infection but were unable totrack down previous sexual partners to notify them.
“The dating apps have certainly made it easier to find partners, but also easier to find partners that, later on,may be harderto contact,” Dr Ryder said.
Appsoffered an avenue for communication to distribute health information, and Dr Ryder thinks the safe sex message is sinking in.
“If you have a look over time, people are now having sex later with fewer partners and using a lot more condoms than they were doing in our grandparents’ age,” he said. “People are having safer sex now than our grandparents were. But that’s not a reason to sit back and relax, we still want to make sure we can protect people and keep them safe and healthy during their sex life.”
Population Health doctor Kat Taylor said the biggest problems with STIs such asgonorrhea and chlamydia was that they could present with no symptoms, and have long term implications –such as infertility for women – if left untreated.
“We would really like to encourage people to do is get checked. It’s easy to test for, and easy to treat,” she said.
“Prevention is better than a cure, so we encourage people to practice safe sex, and get regular sexual health checks.”
Hunter New england Health, Clinic Director Sexual Health, Doctor Nathan Ryder at the Hunter Street centre. story about HIV, encouraging ppl to get tested. PHOTO BY MARINA NEIL –