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ZIKA IS AN STD!! – Battling the STD Stigma

The Zika virus gained notoriety in Brazil when it was blamed for causing a spate of birth defects known as microcephaly. Babies born with microcephaly had abnormally small heads and often also suffered concurrent problems with brain development. Some children born to Zika infected mothers had normal sized heads but their heads would fail to develop normally. These are obviously horrible consequences for both the mother and child. 


Zika is a virus that is spread by mosquitoes very much like Dengue. However, it was soon discovered that Zika was also sexually transmitted. And that consistent and correct use of condoms protected pregnant women from the Zika virus and consequently their unborn children to the devastating effects of Congenital Zika Syndrome.  

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But wait a minute? Does that mean Zika is an STD? Technically it seems to fit. STD is an acronym for Sexually Transmitted Disease. Zika is a disease that is sexually transmitted. But it is predominantly transmitted via the bite from an infected mosquito. So is it an STD? If Zika is an STD then is raises other uncomfortable questions like: if a person catches chickenpox from his/her partner because they had sex, is chickenpox then an STD too? Or even the common Flu, which is spread as an airborne virus, can also easily be caught via sexual intercourse. So the common Flu is an STD!


I’ve had this discussion many times with my patients when they have been diagnosed with an infection and they ask me “is it an STD?” Sometimes, this is rather easy to answer. If they have, for example, an infection of Gonorrhoea of the penis, one can be confident to say that they caught it from a sexual contact. But at times, things get murky. A good example is an infection with Ureaplasma Urealyticum. We know this tiny bacteria can be sexually transmitted. We also know that it can seem to appear out of nowhere in mutually monogamous couples. We also know that it can be just a commensal and not a disease causing pathogen. So when a patient with an infection of his urinary tract caused by Ureaplasma asks me “is this an STD?” I am unable to give a direct black and white answer. 


The same goes for what I would describe as the most feared STD by many, and that is HIV. For a fact, the commonest way that HIV is transmitted is via sexual contact. However, we also know for a fact that HIV can be transmitted by sharing needles, contaminated surgical instruments, transfusion of contaminated blood and transplant of contaminated organs. Albeit the last 2 hardly happens anymore due to increased awareness, better infection screening protocols and technology advancement. But let’s be honest, if and when we find out someone is infected with HIV, getting injured by surgical instruments is not likely the first reason to pop into our heads.


And therein lies the issue. Answering the question “is this an STD?” does not in any way contribute to the clinical management of the disease except perhaps for contact tracing. For partner protection, the same advice will be given if the disease can be transmitted sexually regardless of whether or not it is called an “STD”. The issue, I believe, is stigma. To be labelled as having an “STD” is to be labelled as a moral or sexual deviant. But should this really be the case? Infections are caused by microorganisms invading our bodies and using our resources to make more of themselves. Drawing on resources around them to reproduce is hardcoded into the genetic material of all living things, humans being the best and worst examples. Microorganisms do not care how they are transmitted or where they infect as long as the environment they are in supports their reproduction. Microorganisms do not care about our textbooks and whether or not we call them STDs.


Consequently, some infections although predominantly transmitted by sex, can also be transmitted by other means. And some that can easily be caught via sex, are for some reason not given the label “STD”. I do hope we can eventually drop this label and treat infections for what they are – infections. Treat the patient, prevent reinfection, protect partners. Labels are useless. 

Next read: WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT GONORRHEA OR SUPER GONORRHEA?


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People Living With HIV In Singapore

The alarm chimes to life. As the incessant ringing crescendos the clock face starts to flash an LED blue. Mr. J stretches a slim arm out from under the blankets and pushes down on the snooze button. It was 6:00am on another nice balmy morning in Singapore. Because it was approaching the year end it was a cool 24°C. Jumping out of bed, Mr. J prepares for his morning run on the Park Connector, a network of roads and paths linking the various parks and gardens in Singapore.
A quick shower follows his run and he slips into his shite cotton shirt and blue cotton pants, all ready for a 20 minutes ride on the MRT to Raffles Place and his office in the financial hub of Singapore. After a hard day’s work a 10 minute walk takes him to Fullerton One where he enjoys a well earned dinner and drinks with his friends while the sun sets behind the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. Another most typical day for a typical Singaporean in Singapore. Except for one difference. Mr. J is one of the almost 7000 people living with HIV in Singapore. 
I set up our first clinic at Robertson Walk in 2005 and in 2008 was awarded the mandate to conduct anonymous HIV tests. Mr. J saw me in 2009. He was recently married. His wife had to spend a few days out of town and he saw no harm in engaging the services of a sex worker. He did not use a condom. As the positive line slowly materialized on the test strip, I turned to Mr. J and said “It looks like the test is positive.”
He screamed and he screamed. He could not stop screaming. He grabbed the pillow on my examination couch and screamed into that. Even in the state he was in, he was considerate enough not to scare the other patients in the waiting room. He finally picked up his phone and called his brother. Soon after, his mother and his brother arrived. They spoke and they cried. I told him it was going to be OK but I knew nothing I said was getting through. A few days later Mr. J came back to the clinic, this time with his wife. She tested negative. She had forgiven him and they were going to have a family together. He would be strong, he would take his medicines and he would live what I promised was a long healthy and meaningful life. 


Since 2008 our clinic at Robertson Walk has conducted more than thirty thousand anonymous HIV tests. We have given good news most of the time and bad news more often than we would like. We have diagnosed people from all walks of life, all orientations, all genders, all vocations and a huge variety of nationalities with HIV. It is a virus that does not discriminate. Some took the news with stoic calm, some crumbled mentally, emotionally and physically. We tell everyone the same thing: it is going to be OK. HIV is not a death sentence. HIV is a chronic disease. It is no different from diabetes. You just have to take a single pill a day. You just have to see the doctor a couple of times a year. It is not so bad. It is not so bad. It is not so bad. It is going to be OK. We have held hands, wiped tears and held people together as they mended. 
After the initial shock comes acceptance and the relatively mundane work of getting the virus under control. We walk with them every step of the way from their first blood tests to their first pills. We link them up with emotional support services, we counsel them on their medical finances and step by step, piece by piece their lives reassemble and are made whole again.


On the 1st of April 2015, Singapore lifted its travel ban on people living with HIV. We opened our arms to all in the region who wished for our brand of care. We started seeing people living with HIV come from Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and many other countries in the region. We provided the best care we knew how and watched like a proud parent as their viral loads dropped and the CD4 counts rose. 
2 to 3 out of every 1000 people in Singapore is living with HIV. Did you walk past a thousand people today? On the bus, on the train, in the mall, at your office? Then you have walked past a few people living with HIV. They are no different from anyone else. In fact, I often tell my patients that the people living with HIV I know are frequently in much better shape. Perhaps they appreciate their health more. It is also a myth that once a person is diagnosed with HIV in Singapore the authorities will come flying in and inform his family and his employer and every time he goes past immigration the officers will look at their screens and give him a dirty knowing look.
None of these happens. In fact, laws in Singapore protect the anonymity of people living with HIV and punish people who share someone’s status unnecessarily. Another myth is that HIV treatment in Singapore is unaffordable costing thousands of dollars a month. There are now many schemes in place to make treatment extremely affordable. What still needs a lot of work is the stigma and discrimination. That is why almost every person living with HIV in Singapore keeps their status a secret. That is also why we salute Mr. Avin Tan who went public with his HIV status and now works tirelessly to help others.


The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Communities make the difference. Communities are the lifeblood of an effective AIDS response and an important pillar of support.” Because HIV/AIDS is not “their problem”, it is our problem. Less stigma means a lower barrier to testing which leads to earlier diagnosis and decreasing the risk to others. Less discrimination means more willingness to seek help and treatment which leads to earlier viral load control and less contagion. More support means people living with HIV staying on treatment and remaining physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and contributing to society.


READ: WORLD AIDS DAY PRESS STATEMENT

My Facebook just got updated. There’s a picture of Mr. J with his wife and 2 lovely twin daughters at the Singapore Barrage. They look like they are flying kites or at least trying to. His girls must be 6 years old by now. 6 years since I tested both of them to be negative for HIV. They look like a really happy family. A typical Singaporean family.
Speak to your doctor if you have any questions regarding HIV, Anonymous HIV Testing, HIV Screening and HIV Treatment & Management.


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艾滋病 (HIV) 的症状与治疗方法

大家好,今天黄医生谈谈艾滋病感染的症状。

HIV症状取决于个体和疾病阶段。

在最初感染后的前2-4周内,患者可能会出现流感样症状, 他们称之为“有史以来最严重的流感”。


这被称为急性逆转录病毒综合征。症状包括发烧,腺体肿胀,喉咙痛,皮疹,疲劳,身体疼痛和头痛。

艾滋病毒症状可持续数天至数周。请记住,这些症状可见于其他常见疾病,您不应仅仅因为体验过它而认为您患有艾滋病毒。还要注意许多早期HIV感染者没有症状。


在HIV感染的早期阶段之后,该疾病进入临床潜伏期,其中病毒在体内发展,但没有看到症状。如果您正在接受艾滋病治疗,那么病毒通常会受到控制,您可能会遇到可能持续数十年的无症状期。如果您感染了艾滋病病毒并且没有接受治疗,那么它将进展为艾滋病。您可能会出现严重的症状,包括体重迅速减轻,反复发烧,大量盗汗,极度疲倦,腺体肿胀,腹泻,口腔溃疡,肺部感染和神经系统疾病。

即使您遇到上述症状,除非您接受检测,否则无法确认HIV。


如果你担心自己有可能跟性(爱)产生接触或正在经历类似状况,请到我们的诊所进行相关咨询和诊测。

与医生预约

HIV / AIDS: The Differences & Myths Surrounding Them

HIV & AIDS in Singapore

There were 434 reported cases of HIV infection among Singapore residents in 2017. Of these cases, 94% were male and 6% were female, and 71% were between 20 to 49 years old. Among ethnic groups, 69% were Chinese, 19% were Malay, 6% were Indian and 6% from other ethnicities.
Sexual intercourse remains the main mode of HIV transmission, accounting for 96% of all cases. Heterosexual transmission accounted for 36%, while 51% were from homosexual transmission and 10% from bisexual transmission.  The number of new HIV cases among Singapore residents has remained consistent at about 450 per year since 2008. These are the latest statistics published by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, which analyzes data provided by the Ministry of Health.
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What’s the difference between the two? 

HIV is a virus that causes weakening of the body’s immune system. It does so by destroying white blood cells that protect against bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens. Without these white blood cells, the body is will no longer be able to defend itself effectively against such infections.
AIDS refers to a spectrum of potentially life-threatening conditions that are caused by the virus, and is the end stage of HIV infection.


How does HIV progress to AIDS? 

HIV infection undergoes 3 stages. The first stage (Acute Stage) may present with flu-like symptoms, fever and a rash. The second stage (Latent Stage) may present with lymph node swelling, but most patients may not have any symptoms at all. The second stage 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. Last but not least, the third stage is the presentation of AIDS. 
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. Various virus-induced cancers, and opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and recurrent pneumonia may occur, and these are the leading causes of death worldwide in patients with AIDS.


Who should test for HIV?

Everyone! It is recommended by the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that everyone between the ages of 13 to 64 should undergo HIV testing at least once as part of your routine healthcare. However, if your behaviour still puts you at risk even after getting tested, you should consider getting tested again at some point later on. People who engage in higher risk activity should get tested regularly.


Are you at risk?

If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you should get a HIV test if not done recently.

  • Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
  • Have you had sex – anal or vaginal – with a HIV-positive partner?
  • have you had more than one sex partner?
  • have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with, or sought treatment for, another sexually transmitted disease?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or treated hepatitis or tuberculosis?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?

What are some of the HIV tests available?

There are four types of HIV tests available.
1. Nuclecic Acid Test (NAT) 
Also know as a HIV viral load test, this test looks for the actual virus in the blood. If the result is positive, the test will also show the amount of virus present in the blood. NAT is very expensive and thus not routinely used to screen individuals unless they recently had a high-risk or possible exposure and there are early symptoms of HIV infection. NAT is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or antigen/ antibody test at the same time to help in the interpretation of negative NAT result. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT.
NAT is able to detect HIV in the blood as early as 1 to 4 weeks (7 to 28 days) after infection.
2. Antigen/ Antibody Test
Also known as a fourth-generation or combination test, this test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by the immune system when one is exposed to bacteria or viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause the immune system to activate. In early HIV infection, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop.
The fourth generation test is able to detect HIV in the blood 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) after infection, and is most accurate after a 28-day window period.
3. Antibody test
This is also known as a third-generation test. As mentioned before, antibodies are produced by the immune system upon exposure to bacteria or viruses like HIV.
The antibody test is able to detect HIV in the blood approximately 97% of people within 3 to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) of infection. If a positive HIV result is obtained from any type of antibody test, a follow up test is required to confirm the result.
4. HIV Pro-Viral DNA Test

The HIV Pro-Viral DNA test can be used in specific situations where there are challenges to getting an accurate HIV diagnosis with other available HIV tests including HIV Antibody tests (3rd Generation HIV test), HIV Antibody and Antigen tests (4th Generation HIV test) as well as HIV RNA PCR test.

It is especially useful in the following situations:

  1. Diagnosing HIV in newborns born to HIV +ve mothers
  2. Elite controllers with undetectable HIV viral load despite not being on anti-retroviral treatment
  3. Individual with sero-negative HIV infections i.e. People who get infected with HIV but do not develop anti-HIV antibodies : see FALSE NEGATIVE HIV ELISA TEST

It can be used for situations where the diagnosis of HIV is challenging. It has a lower false positive rate compared to the HIV RNA PCR test when used for diagnosis and it can be done 10 days post exposure.


Can you share the 4 most common myths about HIV? 

1. HIV is a death sentence. 

This may have been the case several decades ago, where without prompt and adequate HIV 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 are still able to lead healthy, productive lives and may never develop AIDS.

2. HIV can 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 such as semen, blood, vaginal secretions or breast milk, and lastly, mother-to-child transmission. 

3. HIV can spread through mosquito bites. 

This is completely untrue as the virus cannot survive and replicate within the mosquito’s body.

4. There is no need to use a condom during sexual contact if both partners already have HIV. 

Different strains of HIV exist. If two HIV-infected partners are carrying different strains of HIV, having unprotected sexual intercourse may result in the exchange of these strains, leading to re-infection. Treatment in this situation becomes more difficult as the new HIV strain may be more resistant to the current treatment, or cause the current treatment to become ineffective.


What are the 4 things (facts) we should all know about HIV that we probably don’t know already?

  1. Under the Infectious Diseases Act, it is an offence for people who know that they are infected with HIV or AIDS in Singapore to not inform their sexual partners of their HIV status before engaging in sexual intercourse.
  2. For those who are worried but too afraid to undergo HIV screening, there are 10 clinics in Singapore that offer Anonymous HIV Testing (AHT). AHT is made available so as to encourage more individuals who suspect that they are at risk to go for early HIV screening. There is no requirement to provide any form of personal particulars, even if the test comes back positive.
  3. Persons who plan to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour can reduce their risk of HIV infection by taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). This is an oral medication that, when taken correctly, can reduce the risk of HIV transmission through sex by over 90%. Persons who did not take PrEP prior to engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour are eligible for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). This is a one month course of oral medications that must be started within 72 hours of the sexual exposure, the earlier the better.
  4. The current tagline in HIV is Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U). In recent years, there is overwhelming clinical evidence proving that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable HIV viral load by adhering to their treatment cannot sexually transmit the virus to uninfected partners. Several large studies had been conducted over a course of 10 years between 2007 to 2016, involving thousands of heterosexual and homosexual couples. In these studies, there was not a single case of HIV transmission from a virally suppressed person to their uninfected partner. This is life changing for people living with HIV. In addition to being able to choose to have sex without a condom, this news allows them to approach existing or new relationships with a sense of liberation. 

Speak to our doctors for professional advice or if you wish to find out more information on HIV and AIDS.
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Rectal Douching and Associated Infection Risks

Similar to vaginal douching, rectal douching or anal douching is not something that many people talk about it polite circles. It is commonly practiced by Men-Who-Have-Sex-With-Men (MSM) who receive anal sex. Let’s face it, generally we don’t want our loved ones to have to deal with our faeces while having anal sex. However there is a growing concern about the practice of performing anal douching and its associated risk of STI including HIV infection.
Other Read: Anal Pap Smear for Anal Cancer.
 

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A recently published systematic review (essentially this means that the study involves gathering all published studies on a subject and compiling the findings together) in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections (May 2019), there is evidence to suggest that anal douching can potentially increase the risk of STI and HIV infection among MSM. In the systematic review, it included a total of 28 studies looking at anal douching and the risk of STI/ HIV in MSM population around the world (46% from US, 35% from Europe and the rest from South America, Asia and Africa). 
Also Read: STD Risk From Receptive Unprotected Anal Sex In Men
 


The findings show that men who perform anal douching compared to those who don’t have a 2.8 times higher risk of HIV and close to 2.5 times higher risk of any other types of STIs (Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HPV). With respect to specific STIs, the study found that anal douching increases the risk of chlamydia and gonorrhoea by up to 3.25 times and 3.29 times for Hepatitis B Virus and Hepatitis C Virus.
It is theorised that possible reasons for the association of anal douching with increased risk of STIs and HIV may be due to:

  1. Water and/ or soap causes the delicate lining of the rectum and intestines to become damaged.
  2. Removal of normal flora (bacteria that normally is found in the rectum) due to the action of flushing
  3. Risk of transmission of STIs and HIV through the sharing of douching devices much sharing of needles for IVDU. 

 


The authors also noted that further studies will be needed to further elucidate this association between anal douching and STIs and HIV infection.
Speak to your doctor if you have any questions regarding the associated infection risks from rectal douching or anal douching.
 


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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 Singapore 2019

In June 2019, the Ministry of Health (MOH) released an update on the HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) situation in Singapore 2018.
Here are the salient statistics and a short commentary for each.

  • There were 313 new cases of HIV infections reported among Singapore residents in 2018
    • There were 8,295 HIV-infected Singapore residents as of end 2018, of whom 2,034 had passed away.
    • The number of new HIV cases among Singapore residents has been between 400 to 500 per year from 2007 to 2017

The number of cases has dropped slightly – from 400-500 a year to 313 last year. In 2017 it was 434 new cases. In 2016 it was 408 new cases. While no reasons were provided as to why the numbers last year were lower, it is a step in the right direction for organisations like Action for AIDS, which is committed to ending HIV transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030. Safer sex practices such as the consistent and correct use of condoms and reducing high-risk sexual behaviour such as being faithful to one’s partner, avoiding casual sex and avoiding sex with commercial sex workers are some ways we can further reduce transmission of HIV. The usage of medications such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP) can also reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

  • The age and sex distribution of the 313 cases
    • 93% were male
    • 62% were between 20 to 49 years old

The majority of new cases are men, and usually in the age group of 20-49. Males of this age group might have a tendency to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour. Education about HIV transmission and prevention for everyone, especially for males aged 20-49 is crucial for the aim of reduction of new cases.

  • 95% acquired the infection through sexual intercourse
    • 43% were from heterosexual transmission
    • 42% were from homosexual transmission
    • 10% were from bisexual transmission.

For the first time, the rate of heterosexual transmission was greater than the rate of homosexual transmission for HIV. This could be due to increased awareness of HIV and its transmission in the homosexual population.
A recent local study by researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has estimated that around 210,000 men have sexual intercourse with other men, which is more than twice an earlier estimate of 90,000. The researchers have identified four groups that have the highest risk of getting and transmitting HIV, which are
– Males who have sex with other males (210,000)
– Male clients of female sex workers (72,000)
– Female sex workers (4,200)
– Intravenous drug users (11,000)
These are the groups that are most at risk, and are the groups we need to increase screening rates and education about HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well.

  • About 50% had late-stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed

HIV can be treated effectively – it is no longer the death sentence it was when HIV was first discovered. We know that the earlier we initiate treatment for HIV, the better the outcomes and life expectancy. All that is required to test for HIV is a small amount of blood and more importantly, ownership of your health. We highly advise everyone who engages in high-risk sexual behaviour regularly test for not just HIV, but other STIs as well.

  • Methods of detection
    • 57% were detected in the course of medical care provision
      • Such cases are typically at the late stage of HIV infection.
    • 22% were detected during routine programmatic HIV screening
    • 14% were detected from voluntary screening.
      • Such cases were more likely to be at an early stage of infection.

When someone presents at the late stage of HIV infection, outcomes and life expectancy are poorer. HIV ideally should never be discovered this way. HIV infection can be completely asymptomatic, especially in the early stages, and the only way to detect infection is to test for it.
The goal is to increase voluntary screening rates so that we can detect HIV early on, before the onset of AIDS. HIV infected people can lead normal, long, healthy lives with proper treatment. HIV testing is available at polyclinics, private clinics, and hospitals. There are also anonymous HIV test sites, where personal particulars are not required when signing up for an HIV test.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has been working with partner organisations to conduct educational programmes and campaigns to reach out to high-risk individuals to urge them to go for regular HIV testing. It is good to know that our government is taking steps to increase awareness and increase rates of HIV screening. We should do ours too by taking charge of our health by reducing high-risk sexual behaviour, and getting tested regularly should there be any high-risk sexual activity.


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)

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.


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Tag: hiv 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

How Long Can HIV Survive Outside the Body?

There are many fears and misconceptions about HIV survivability and infection risk.
We often get asked some form of this question by people who have come into contact with potentially infected blood or bodily fluids from surfaces or other objects and who are worried about HIV infection risk.
Most importantly, there have been no validated cases of HIV transmission through casual touching of surfaces or objects (e.g. toilet seats, toothbrushes, towels) to date.
However, it is true that HIV has been shown to survive outside the human body for up to several weeks in certain environmental conditions.

How Long Can HIV Survive Outside the Body?

So what does the evidence say so far?

1) Temperatures

  • At > 60⁰C – HIV is killed by heat temperatures of > 60⁰C are sufficient to kill HIV.

HIV is NOT killed by cold – It is known that the survival time of HIV increases in colder temperatures.

  • At 27⁰C to 37⁰C, the HIV can survive for up to 7 days in syringes (fresh blood)
  • At room temperature, the HIV can survive in dried blood for 5 to 6 days.
  • At 4⁰C, HIV can survive up to 7 days in dried blood
  • At -70⁰C, HIV can survive indefinitely without any loss of viral activity – this is the temperature that HIV-infected blood is stored at in laboratory experiments for future testing.

2) pH Level

  • HIV can only survive in a narrow band of pH between 7 and 8

DID YOU KNOW:

  1. HIV has been found to survive for a few days in sewage in laboratory based experiments; however, it has not been detected in urine or stool samples in any real-life setting.
  2. HIV has been found to survive in organs and corpses for up to 2 weeks after death, especially in cooler temperatures.
  3. HIV has been found in low levels in breast milk, with infective transmission possible from mother to baby; however, no studies have been performed to determine how long it is infective once it is outside the body

Semen or vaginal fluids outside the body

There have been no studies on HIV survival in semen or vaginal fluids outside the body, but so far evidence indicates that it is only present at very low levels and is unlikely to pose a risk of infection from contaminated surfaces.

These studies have mainly looked at HIV survivability in laboratory based experiments, and have not taken into account the effect of environmental conditions such as wind, rain, and sun exposure. Further studies are needed to more clearly elucidate the risk of certain exposures.
Also, just because HIV can survive outside the body does not mean that it is necessarily infective. Even when live HIV virus comes into contact with broken skin or mucosa, it must still be present in an adequate dose to establish infection (the tissue culture infectious dose), and must then undergo a complex series of steps before it actually causes an HIV infection.

Survivability ≠ Infectivity

HIV transmission thus far has only been shown to occur through sexual intercourse, contaminated needles (including tattoos and body piercing), blood transfusions, and very isolated cases of dental procedures and eyesplash incidents with infected blood. There have been zero cases of infection from casual contact with a contaminated surface or object to date.

In a Nutshell

All in All, if you have touched some surface or fluid that you think may be contaminated with HIV, do not worry – you will not get infected.
However, it is still important to practice proper hygiene and infection control measures to reduce the risk of other infections as well.
If you believe you have had a potential high-risk exposure within the last 72 hours, you may consider Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) – this course of medication can greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection following an exposure. Please contact us for a consultation if you think you need PEP.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please visit our Doctor Moderated Online Forum on Sexual Health, HIV and STDs.

If you are interest to go for an Anonymous HIV Testing, please visit our Robertson Walk Branch.
We are Singapore MOH Approved Anonymous HIV Test site in Singapore.

Take Care!


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