Blood Borne Viruses & Sexually Transmitted Infections

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HIV and AIDS

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that leads to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

The most widely recognised ways of acquiring HIV are:

  • Having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected
  • Sharing needles, syringes or other drug injecting equipment with someone who is infected
  • Receiving a transfusion of blood/blood products contaminated with HIV
  • From an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, at birth or through breast feeding

HIV is NOT passed on through everyday social contact with an infected person such as touching, shaking hands, kissing, coughing or sneezing

HIV and health

People infected with HIV usually have no symptoms for a prolonged period of time, while the virus slowly attacks and weakens the body's immune system. When this happens, a person will become vulnerable to illnesses (often referred to as Opportunistic Infections), that a healthy immune system would usually be able to fight off. At this stage of infection, the person is often diagnosed as having AIDS. Progression from HIV to AIDS varies from person to person and can be affected by many factors including stage at diagnosis and treatment.

Currently, no vaccine or cure for HIV is available. Once a person contracts HIV, he/she will remain infected with the virus for life and be able to transmit it to others. People with HIV infection will almost certainly die. Combination anti-retroviral therapy (sometimes called Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy or HAART) suppresses HIV and can reverse damage to the immune system, thus prolonging the lives of those infected.

People with HIV in Scotland

By 31 March 2015, 8092 HIV infections have been diagnosed in Scotland since the epidemic (pandemic) began in the early 1980s: at least 1938 (24%) are known to have died. Allowing for known and presumed migration of cases, it is estimated that there are currently 4967 persons living in Scotland who have been diagnosed HIV-positive. 4101 are attending for specialist care and treatment.

Since 2001, there has been a rise in the annual number of reports of HIV in Scotland in comparison to the previous decade; between 1988-2001, an average of 160 reports were received by HPS each year. This increased to 289 cases per year between 2002-2004, and to 403 per year from 2005 to 2009. From 2010 to 2014, an annual average of 359 new reports of HIV infection were recorded ranging from 347 in 2012 to 372 in 2014. The main factors contributing to this rise have been the increase in the numbers of previously infected individuals from areas of high prevalence, such as sub-Saharan Africa, coming to Scotland coupled with a two and a half fold increase in individuals presenting for an HIV test (based on data from the four main NHS board testing areas, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Lothian, NHS Grampian, and NHS Tayside) between 2003 and 2008 (latest data available).

The annual number of men who have sex with men (MSM) diagnosed with HIV peaked at 203 reports in 2007. From 2004 to 2014, an annual average of 167 reports have been received by HPS, compared to 72 per year from 1985 to 2003. This stems from a number of factors including increased HIV testing, particularly in the genitourinary medicine clinic setting, and continued transmission of HIV. Among individuals presumed to have been infected in Scotland, MSM contact remains the primary method of transmission, accounting for 70% of cases reported since 2004.

The number of diagnoses among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs) decreased following the introduction of harm reduction measures in the early 1990s and has remained relatively low since.

Since 2001, 59% of all new reports of HIV infection occurred among individuals presumed to have been infected outwith Scotland.

Currently the number of people living with diagnosed HIV is rising each year due to increased numbers of new diagnoses and decreasing deaths due to antiretroviral therapies. Consequently, the number of HIV-infected individuals in specialist care and receiving anti-retroviral therapy in Scotland is increasing; Greater Glasgow & Clyde and Lothian NHS Boards manage the majority of cases.

Policy context

The Scottish Government launched the 'HIV Action Plan in Scotland, December 2009 to March 2014' in November 2009. The plan aims to reduce the number of transmissions taking place in Scotland through increased prevention, increasing early diagnosis and improving the treatment and care of those living with the virus.

Information sources about HIV in Scotland

Staff at Health Protection Scotland together with HIV virologists/microbiologists, clinicians, and immunologists collect epidemiological data on diagnosed HIV infection in Scotland.

Many HIV infected persons in Scotland have not yet had their infection diagnosed. The infection is still frequently regarded as stigmatising and may remain silent for several years. For these reasons several surveillance methods are employed to further our understanding of the epidemiology of the infection and associated disease.

Surveillance Systems

Further information

Trends in the surveillance of blood-borne viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B are presented in Annual Data Tables.

The tables provide data on reporting, testing, monitoring, and prevalence which are not routinely published elsewhere.