Increased testing reveals cluster of HIV cases in north Okanagan

The number of confirmed cases of HIV is on the rise in Interior B.C., but the Interior Health Authority says that doesn't necessarily indicate an outbreak of the virus — rather, it shows that increased testing is revealing "hidden positives" that already existed.

More diagnoses of the AIDS-causing virus is good news, says Interior Health Authority

The Interior Health Authority's increased testing efforts are revealing hidden cases of HIV in the B.C. Interior. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

The number of confirmed cases of HIV is on the rise in the B.C. Interior, but health officials say that's a good thing, indicating that their push for more testing is working.

According to the Interior Health Authority, between 10 and 20 new HIV diagnoses are made in the B.C. Interior each year. Nearly six months into 2016, the health authority has already confirmed between 10 and 12 cases.

A third of these are in the north Okanagan.

But IHA chief medical health officer Trevor Corneil says that doesn't necessarily indicate an outbreak of the virus. Rather, Corneil said increased testing through the IHA's Stop HIV program is revealing "hidden positives" that already existed.

"That's important to us because it means we can do local intervention," Corneil told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Rural communities prone to underdiagnosis

Corneil said he would expect to see similar jumps in case numbers in any region in which the health authority ramped up its testing campaign.

"In many ways, we want [increased diagnoses] to happen, because the sooner we can get people on HIV treatment and antiretroviral therapy, and the sooner they can actually stop transmitting the virus," Corneil said.

A recent UBC Okanagan study found that men who have sex with men are less likely to discuss sexual activity with their family doctor in rural areas compared to urban areas. This can make it especially hard to diagnose HIV/AIDS in rural areas.

"We all know that social norms are evolving," Corneil said. "[But] there's [still] a lot of stigma attached to being a gay man in some of the smaller cities."

The IHA plans to continue its efforts to diagnose the hidden cases it suspects exist.

"It's really all about testing," Corneil said. "We really need to get family doctors, hospitals [and] emergency rooms testing people."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South.