World AIDS Day 2019 Press Statement

World AIDS Day is a day to remember all those who have lost their lives to the illness. At the end of 2018, it is estimated that 32 million lives were lost worldwide to the disease. WHO had previously set the 90-90-90 target for countries in the world to achieve by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV will know their status, 90% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 90% of those who are on treatment have undetectable levels of the virus. Let us take stock of what we have been able to achieve thus far.


Since then Singapore has risen to the challenge to achieve those goals.
 Singapore has done well with 2 of the goals – 89% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 94% of those who are on treatment achieved undetectable viral loads. However, much has to be done to improve on getting those living with HIV to know their status as only about 72% are aware they are positive for HIV.
Thus we need to encourage more people who are at risk of HIV infection to get tested. At Dr Tan and Partners we have been strong advocates of screening of HIV and STIs for at risk persons and provide a non-judgmental and LGBT-friendly environment to discuss your concerns. This is to help to protect their families and their loved ones. It is not uncommon for people that I see in my practice to tell me one of the reasons why they are reluctant to get tested is because they are afraid of what will happen if their families or their loved ones find out.
The other common concern is that they will lose their jobs. Finally there are still many misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted. I have patients who are concerned that because they share food with their families they can transmit HIV to their family which is of course not true. HIV is NOT transmitted via casual contact like sharing of food and drinks or shaking hands.


Of note in Singapore as of 2018, of all those who were tested positive more LGBTs are stepping up to get voluntary testing for HIV (20%) compared to heterosexuals (9%). Also importantly, in all newly diagnosed HIV persons in Singapore both homosexuals (42%) and heterosexuals (43%) contribute equally to number of cases. What this shows is that contrary to what some believe, HIV is NOT a homosexual disease but it is a disease that affects all sexual orientation.
Finally, there is strong evidence from large studies involving thousands of sero-discordant couples (that is one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is HIV negative) who have sexual acts between 2007-2016 showed that there was not a single case of HIV transmission to the HIV negative partner if the HIV positive treated partner has undetectable levels of HIV virus. This highlights the importance of treatment of HIV, that treatment of HIV can be successful in achieving undetectable levels of virus and that transmission of HIV is effectively blocked when levels of the virus is undetectable.


We are proud that our Doctors at DTAP have been actively involved in the fight against the HIV epidemic. Our Anonymous HIV Testing site at Robertson Walk has provided a safe space for thousands of people seeking confidential HIV testing since 2005. Our Doctors were the lead and co-lead authors of the Community Workforce section in the Blueprint to end HIV transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030. Our Doctors were also part of the Singapore HIV PrEP Taskforce and helped write the first ever local Singapore guidelines for the clinical management of HIV PrEP.
We will continue this fight until we see a world free of stigma, free of discrimination and hopefully free of HIV.


Dr. Julian Ng

Dr Julian Ng has 10 years of medical practice experience. He currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the DTAP Group of clinics in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. He is also a member of the Singapore Men’s Health Society. His special interests are in the field Andrology, especially sexual health. He is currently practising at Dr Tan and Partners (DTAP) clinic at Novena Medical Centre.

HIV Elite Controllers and Long-term Non-progressors

Elite controllers are defined as those individuals who have been infected with HIV but is able to achieve undetectable levels of virus (<50 copies/ml) without any medication. While long-term controllers are those who have been able to achieve low but detectable levels of HIV (<2000 copies/ml) without treatment.

There are many theories as to how these individuals are able to control the virus:

  • These individuals CD4 cells are less susceptible to infection by the HIV virus
  • Infected with defective strains of the HIV virus that makes the virus less able to produce copies of itself.
  • Individuals’ whose immune system is able to mount an effective response to the virus
  • Individuals’ immune system causes less inflammation when the HIV virus is encountered and thus limiting the exposure of the virus to CD4 cells.

There is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that perhaps the main mechanism that allows for control of the HIV virus is that an effective and potent immune response by an individual. Studies have shown that when only CD4 cells of elite controllers were isolated without CD8 cells, and then infected with HIV virus, the CD4 was just as easily infected as non-elite controllers thus giving evidence that the elite controllers CD4 cells were just as susceptible to HIV infection as non-elite individuals.
In recent months, researchers in Sydney, Australia has reported a case of a known HIV person who has spontaneously cleared HIV infection with no treatment. This patient was infected due to a blood transfusion back in 1981. The patient was able to suppress the HIV virus in his body through his own immune system and have undetectable levels of the virus since 1997. Most recently, they tried to look for traces of the HIV virus in his blood, intestines and lymph nodes but did not detect any traces of the virus, thus the researchers believe this is the first case of spontaneous clearance of HIV infection in humans.

So what factors may have contributed to this patient being able to clear the virus from his body?

  • The virus that originally infected that patient was lacking in a gene called nef. In HIV virus deficient in this gene, the virus replicates more slowly and thus is associated with lower viral loads.
  • The patient was born with 1 copy of a gene called CCR5. The gene is required for HIV to attach to human immune cells. Thus persons with only one copy of the gene would make it more difficult for the HIV virus to attach on to the immune cells. (See: CCR5 HIV Test)
  • It was also found that the patient’s immune cells were naturally more able to recognise a protein called gag made by the HIV virus. This protein is found on the surface of infected human cells. Thus allowing his immune system to better recognise cells that have been infected with HIV virus and aid in their destruction.
  • In addition, the patient was born with 2 specific immune-cell genes called HLA-B57 and HLA-DR13 and in combination allows his immune system to be more effective in responding to HIV infection.
  • As a result of his strong response by his CD4 cells as a result of the presence of the HLA-B57, he is able to mount a bigger immune response by his CD8 cells. CD8 cells are required to activate cytotoxic T cells which as the name suggests are immune cells that kills defective or infected human cells.

In essence, the combined effects of each of the above factors contributed to the clearance of the HIV virus from this particular patient. To replicate this combined effect artificially at this point in time is not possible. However, perhaps in the future with further development of gene therapy, we may be able to achieve this unique set of host factors to achieve clearance of HIV virus.


Other Interesting Reads:

  1. Weak Erection? Erectile Dysfunction? How to Improve Erection with Pills
  2. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  3. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  4. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  5. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  6. Anonymous HIV Testing – What You Need to Know
  7. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  8. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  9. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  10. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  11. What is the Treatment for Cold Sores? What causes Cold Sores?
  12. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  13. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes)

Tag: hiv test

What are the Common Misconceptions that People have about HIV?

There are multitude of misconceptions associated with HIV. These are some of the most common ones:
1) HIV is the same as AIDS. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) refers to the virus itself, whereas AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) refers to a spectrum of potentially life-threatening conditions that are caused by the virus.

Read: HIV, AIDS & Opportunistic Infection

2) HIV is a death sentenceThis may have been the case several decades ago, where without prompt and adequate treatment, the infection progresses and causes the immune system to weaken, leading to AIDS. However, thanks to advances in modern medicine, most HIV infected patients today may never develop AIDS. This is why it is imperative to be on treatment, ideally as soon as possible after a diagnosis of HIV is made. It is also important to undergo regular HIV screening.

READ: HIV Treatment & Management

3) HIV can be spread by kissing, sharing of food or close contact. It is extremely unlikely to contract HIV via these methods as HIV is not spread by saliva. However, if the person you are in contact with has mouth sores/ulcers, bleeding gums or open wounds then there is a possible risk. HIV is spread by 3 main routes: sexual contact, significant exposure to infected body fluids/tissues such as semen, blood, vaginal secretions or breast milk, and lastly, mother-to-child transmission.

READ: How Long Can HIV Survived Outside The Body


Is a person infected by HIV any different from that of an uninfected person?

With or without treatment, a person infected with HIV may not appear any different from that of an uninfected person.
HIV infection undergoes 3 stages. The first stage (Acute Stage) may present with flu-like symptoms, fever and a rash. The second stage may present with lymph node swelling, but most patients do not have any symptoms at all. The second stage (Clinical Latency) can last anywhere from a few years to over 20 years. Thus, many HIV infected patients, especially during this stage, may not even know that they have contracted HIV. Lastly, the third stage is the presentation of AIDS symptoms.
HIV infected patients should receive prompt long term treatment and undergo regular follow up blood tests in order to reduce the viral load in their bodies to low levels. This allows their immune system to continue to function well and minimizes the risk of progression to AIDS. By doing so, they can essentially live very normal lives not any different from that of an uninfected person.

What are some of the treatments that a patient will receive upon diagnosis of HIV infection?

Upon diagnosis of HIV infection, a patient will have to start taking a combination of long-term daily medications. These are antiviral medications that work to prevent the virus from replicating. The patient will then be required to return regularly for blood tests to monitor the levels of HIV and the immune system. The goal of treatment is to keep the levels of HIV low, and thus allow the immune system to continue to function well.

How does AIDS affect a person’s health? What do AIDS patients die of?

Without adequate treatment, up to 50% of HIV infected patients develop AIDS within 10 years. Elevated levels of HIV affect the patient’s immune system and prevent it from functioning properly, eventually leading to AIDS. This may result in the individual being more prone to infections. Patients may develop symptoms such as prolonged fever, tiredness, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and night sweats. HIV Related Opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, recurrent pneumonia and esophageal candidiasis,  may occur as well. AIDS patients could also develop various viral-induced cancers.
The leading causes of death worldwide in patients with AIDS are, as mentioned, opportunistic infections and cancer.

Recently it was reported that in London, an HIV patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant subsequently had undetectable HIV levels. Does this mean that he is fully cured of HIV?


This is the 2nd ever reported case of an HIV patient being “cured” of HIV. In 2007, a patient in Berlin was also reported to have been cleared of the virus. Both of these cases have similarities: both HIV infected patients concurrently suffered from cancer (Berlin patient had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia; London patient had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and both patients received bone marrow transplant by donors who carried the rare CCR5 genetic mutation.
CCR5 is a protein on the surface of white blood cells that is involved in the immune system. It is one of the co-receptors that HIV uses to enter target immunological cells. This means that via CCR5, HIV is able to gain a mode of entry into a person’s immune system. People with CCR5 genetic mutation have resistance to HIV infection because the virus is unable to enter into their immune system like it usually does.
In the case of the London patient, subsequent blood tests have shown that the virus cannot be detected. However, this does not necessarily mean that he has been fully “cured” – the virus may simply be in a dormant, or “sleeping” state.
While the outcome was favourable in the two examples stated above, this form of treatment is not a viable large-scale strategy because bone marrow transplants carry significant risks and are extremely costly. However, it is undeniable that these two cases are landmark moments in the war against HIV as scientists continue to hunt for a cure. The hope is that by conducting more research on the editing of the CCR5 gene, we will one day be able to develop a safe, cost-effective and easy solution.

READ: HIV CCR5 Mutation & CCR5 Testing

Do you think that mankind can eradicate HIV eventually? Before this happens, what kind of support can we give to HIV infected patients?

I believe that with continued advances in medical research, there is hope of a cure for HIV in the future. However, this is a long and slow process that may require many years or decades. Until then, the best option is to ensure that the public are able to gain access to undergo HIV screening even if the risk is not high, and that HIV infected patients are able to receive prompt and long term treatment.
From the initial shock and disbelief of receiving a diagnosis of HIV; having to accept the reality of the situation; to having to live with HIV daily, these are just a few examples of the tremendous challenges that HIV patients face in their lives, and for many patients these have a detrimental impact on their psychosocial well-being.
There is still a terrible stigma today surrounding HIV, and it remains very much a taboo subject that most people are afraid to speak about or face up to. Nevertheless, we can offer many forms of support for HIV patients. For starters, government and healthcare organisations need to continue in their best efforts to increase awareness and educate the public about HIV and its misconceptions. If you have a family member or loved one who lives with HIV, the best kind of support would be your understanding, care and acceptance.
Lastly, if you are a person living with HIV, do not despair. Seek the appropriate treatment that you require, and turn to your family and friends for moral support.
Take Care!
Tags: hiv screening singapore, hiv test


Other Interesting Reads:

  1. HIV Elite Controllers And Long-Term Non-Progressors
  2. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  3. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  4. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  5. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  6. Anonymous HIV Testing – What You Need to Know
  7. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  8. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  9. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  10. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  11. What is the Treatment for Cold Sores? What causes Cold Sores?
  12. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  13. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes)
  14. HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test


Advisory: On the Unauthorised Possession and Disclosure of Information from MOH’s HIV Registry

Singapore, 28 January 2019 – Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) held a press conference to inform the public that the confidential information of 14,200 people living with HIV were leaked. This included 5,400 Singaporeans and 8,800 foreigners (source: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/data-of-14200-singapore-patients-with-hiv-leaked-online-by-american-fraudster-who-was). The records of the 5,400 Singaporeans leaked were up to January 2013. The records of the 8,800 Foreigners leaked were up to December 2011.

 

This is a trying time for people living with HIV in Singapore. For Singaporeans diagnosed after January 2013, there is no need to be concerned until more information is available from MOH. For queries, we urge you to contact the MOH hotline on +65 6325-9220.

 

Under the Infectious Diseases Act of Singapore, we would like to remind the community that it is an offence to disclose the identity of a person living with HIV except under very specific conditions (see Addendum 1 below). If anyone comes into contact with such information, we urge you to notify the Singapore police immediately at https://eservices.police.gov.sg/homepage.

 

We hope that even if the identities of people living with HIV are leaked that they are shown the same support and respect we have always given them. People living with HIV are no different from any of us. They are also of no danger to anyone. You cannot get HIV from casual contact such as shaking hands, hugging, sharing food or sharing a toilet.

 

We hope in this difficult time all Singaporeans can band together to show support for people living with HIV. They are our loved ones, our colleagues, our friends and our families.

 

 

Addendum 1: Singapore Infectious Diseases Act

Protection of identity of a person with AIDS, HIV Infection or other sexually transmitted diseases.

 25.—(1)  Any person who, in the performance or exercise of his functions or duties under this Act, is aware or has reasonable grounds for believing that another person has AIDS or HIV Infection or is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease or is a carrier of that disease shall not disclose any information which may identify the other person except —

(a) with the consent of the other person;

(b) when it is necessary to do so in connection with the administration or execution of anything under this Act;

(ba) when it is necessary to do so in connection with the provision of information to a police officer under section 22 or 424 of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010;

[10/2008 wef 10/06/2008]

[15/2010 wef 02/01/2011]

(c) when ordered to do so by a court;

(d) to any medical practitioner or other health staff who is treating or caring for, or counselling, the other person;

[10/2008 wef 10/06/2008]

(e) to any blood, organ, semen or breast milk bank that has received or will receive any blood, organ, semen or breast milk from the other person;

(f) for statistical reports and epidemiological purposes if the information is used in such a way that the identity of the other person is not made known;

(g) to the victim of a sexual assault by the other person;

(h) to the Controller of Immigration for the purposes of the Immigration Act (Cap. 133);

 (i) to the next-of-kin of the other person upon the death of such person;

 (j) to any person or class of persons to whom, in the opinion of the Director, it is in the public interest that the information be given; or

 (k) when authorised by the Minister to publish such information for the purposes of public health or public safety.

[5/92; 13/99]

(2)  Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to both.

 
Dr. Tan Kok Kuan

10 Common HIV-related Opportunistic Infections

In late-stage HIV infection, the virus would have spread through the body and attacked the immune system for many years without treatment. On blood tests, the number of viral copies, or viral load (VL), will be very high, while the CD4 cells of the immune system would be very low.
When the immune system is in this weakened state, it is much easier for certain pathogens (bacterial, viral, fungal etc.) to invade and cause an infection – these types of infections are called Opportunistic Infections (OI’s). Sometimes, these infections can cause certain types of cells to become cancerous, and these are also classified as Opportunistic Infections.

What is an Opportunistic Infection?

In a healthy and normal functioning immune system, these pathogens do not usually cause infection, or they may cause very mild disease. Apart from advanced HIV infection, Opportunistic Infections may affect people who are on chemotherapy for cancer, immunosuppression for autoimmune diseases or post-organ transplant, among other conditions.
In HIV, many of these Opportunistic Infections are what we also term as “AIDS-defining illnesses” – that is, if these infections are found in someone who has HIV, we would classify them as having AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Many of the symptoms and signs of late-stage HIV infection are due to these Opportunistic Infections rather than directly from the virus itself.

What is HIV Treatment?

HIV treatment and management consists of taking a set of correct HIV medicines to delay the control HIV, monitoring for and treating any opportunistic infections, and taking care of the patient’s general health and well being.

What are the most common Opportunistic Infections?

This is a list of some of the most common HIV-related opportunistic infections:

1) Candidiasis (Esophageal, Tracheal, Bronchial)

Also known as thrush, candida is a very common fungal organism that is found almost everywhere in the environment and can be isolated from around 30-50% of healthy people. Most of the time, it does not cause any symptoms of infection; however, in people with HIV, there can be invasive candida overgrowth in the esophagus and airways. It is often the first sign of a weakened immune system in previously undiagnosed individuals.

2) Cryptococcosis

Caused by the fungus cryptococcus neoformans, this can infect any part of the body, but most commonly will invade the lungs (pneumonia) or the brain (abscesses).

3) Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Caused by an intracellular virus, this infection can cause inflammation of the brain, lungs, intestines, and eyes. CMV retinitis of the eye is sight-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency.

4) Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)

Another common virus, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) can cause symptoms in people with a normal immune system as well – usually cold sores or blisters around the mouth, genital region or anus.
However, in people with a weak immune system, outbreaks tend to be more frequent, severe, and prolonged in duration, and can also invade the lungs and esophagus.

5) Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (TB) & other Mycobacterial infection

Tuberculosis (TB) would most commonly affect the lungs, but may also spread to lymph nodes, brain, kidneys, or bones. Symptoms of TB include recurrent fever, night sweats, chronic cough, and weight loss. Other mycobacteria are very commonly found in soil and around the environment, and very rarely would cause problems in healthy individuals; as Opportunistic Infections, they will usually affect the lungs but can spread throughout the body.

6) Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP)

Caused by a fungus pneumocystis carinii, now renamed as pneumocystis jirovecii, this infection is commonly one of the first signs of a late-stage HIV infection. Symptoms would include shortness of breath on exertion, dry cough, and high fever, and if left untreated can be deadly.

7) Salmonella septicemia

Salmonella is a common bacteria that is usually found in contaminated food or water. In healthy individuals, this may cause an acute ‘food poisoning’ with vomiting, diarrhoea, and sometimes fever. However, salmonella as an Opportunistic Infection can spread throughout the body and cause septicemia, or blood poisoning, leading to multi-organ failure and death.

8) Toxoplasmosis

This is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which is found in the faeces of certain animals (normally cats, rodents, and birds), and can be found in undercooked red meat such as pork. It can cause infection of the lungs, eyes, liver, and brain.

9) Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS)

This is a type of abnormal growth/tumor of connective tissue – more specifically, of the capillaries (small blood vessels). It can occur anywhere in the body, but if it arises on the skin or mucous membranes, KS will usually appear as firm reddish or purplish lumps. The cancerous changes in the cells are a result of infection by human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8),

10) Invasive cervical cancer

This is a cancer of the cervix, which is the neck of the womb, or uterus. Malignant changes can occur after infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), and all women (HIV or not) should be screened regularly with pap smears and HPV testing. It is also recommended to get the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9), to prevent HPV infection, cervical cancer, and genital warts.

How can Opportunistic Infections be prevented?

As these infections only occur in people with a weakened immune system, the most important way to prevent them would be to treat the underlying HIV infection. Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment (HAART) is very effective at treating HIV and ensuring the virus is adequately suppressed. With a low or undetectable viral load, the body’s immune system has time to recover – and when the CD4 cells have returned to sufficient numbers, the risk of Opportunistic Infections is lowered drastically. The earlier an HIV infection is diagnosed, the earlier treatment can be started and the better the chances of avoiding Opportunistic Infections.
For patients who are diagnosed with HIV later and have low CD4 counts at diagnosis (<500), it is important to consider Opportunistic Infections prophylaxis while we are waiting for HAART to work. This means starting patients on certain medications (e.g. antibiotics, antifungals, and/or antivirals) to prevent some of these specific infections. It may take 6-12 months for the CD4 counts to recover once HAART has been initiated; once the CD4 counts are improved, these prophylactic medications may be stopped.
Other general advice for people living with HIV would include:

  • Reducing or preventing exposure to other sexually transmitted infections
  • Getting vaccinated (e.g. HPV vaccine, annual flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, etc.)
  • Avoiding undercooked or raw foods (including eggs, meat, unpasteurized milks and cheeses, etc.)
  • Avoid drinking untreated water
  • Speak to your doctor about any other changes that may need to be made at home, work, or when on vacation to reduce exposure to OI’s

Take Care!

Other Interesting Reads:

  1. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  2. The HIV Provirus DNA Test can be done 10 days post exposure.
  3. What are the Symptoms of HIV Infection and AIDS?
  4. Do I Have HIV Rash? Or Are They Other STD-Related Rashes?
  5. What are the Causes of Abnormal Penile Discharge?
  6. Low HIV Risk Doesn’t Mean No HIV Risk
  7. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  8. 11 Causes of Dyspareunia (Pain During Intercourse)
  9. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  10. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  11. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  12. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  13. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes)