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HIV and Travel

October 26th, 2013

Guest Blogger – Dr Wendy Munckhof

At the 2013 Australasian HIV and AIDS conference held in Darwin this week, it was reported that 1.6 million people worldwide died of AIDS in 2012, and more than 10 million people are currently taking medication to treat HIV infection. Most of the burden of HIV infection globally is in Africa and in Asia.

HIV in bloodstream

HIV in bloodstream

In Australia, there were 1,200 new diagnoses of HIV in 2012, mostly occurring in men who have sex with men. However, in other countries, HIV infection is equally common in females and males. Sex work and intravenous drug use are particular risk factors for HIV infection. In some destinations frequently visited by Australians, such as Bali, one-quarter of prostitutes are reported to be HIV-infected. There are 7000 known cases of HIV infection in Bali, with 75% of cases in heterosexuals and 40% of infections in people aged 20 to 29 years old.

In countries with high rates of HIV, such as Thailand or Indonesia, travellers are particularly urged to use condoms during sexual activity.

Exposure to blood is a risk for acquiring HIV infection in countries with high HIV rates. In 2011, a West Australian tourist acquired HIV infection after getting a tattoo in Bali. An investigation in the Kuta area was conducted by the Australian Department of Health and the Indonesian authorities and showed deficiencies in infection control practices in tattoo parlours. The Commonwealth Department of Health recommends that travellers should avoid tattooing or body piercing in countries where infection control practices are not as stringent as in Australia. Tattooing or body piercing in these countries also carries a risk of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Travellers also commonly get temporary black henna tattoos in regions such as Bali. These can cause serious skin reactions in some people and so should be avoided.

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