HIV cases highest ever in UK


The number of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK last year will be the highest ever, public health experts have warned.

Diagnoses of the virus which causes Aids are already seven per cent up in 2000 compared to the previous year, with some figures still to be collected.

For the second year in a row, HIV levels among heterosexuals exceeded those in the homosexual community.

There were 1,315 heterosexual cases last year, with the majority of people becoming infected while visiting areas with high rates of the virus, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

'Many of those being diagnosed are people who were infected some years ago, but who are now only coming forward for testing,' said Barry Evans, head of the HIV division of the Public Health Laboratory Service.

'This is positive, because once people are HIV diagnosed they can be offered treatment,' he said. Although HIV cannot be cured, Evans said there was treatment available to halt the progression of the disease and this was encouraging people to come forward for testing.

'Over 20,000 adults are now living with an HIV diagnosis in this country and with a new diagnosis being made on average every three hours in the year 2000 that number is growing,' he said. 'The prevention messages have never been more important than they are now.'

Health officials say 2,868 new HIV cases were diagnosed in the United Kingdom last year. Derek Bodell, National Aids Trust Chief Executive, said the government must make beating HIV/AIDS a priority.

'If we are to reverse this worrying trend we need to improve our investment in targeted HIV education campaigns and the government must make this an overarching priority in its long-awaited HIV and Sexual Health Strategy.'

Fact file:

•More than 20,000 people in the UK are living in the knowledge that they are HIV positive and many more may be unknowingly infected.

• Worldwide, 3.6 million people are infected.

• Children make up about two per cent of the UK's HIV sufferers.

• A pregnant woman with HIV stands a one in three chance of passing on the virus to her baby.

But if precautions are taken - for instance opting for a Caesarean birth and not breast feeding - the risk can be reduced to less than one in 20.

• Drug treatments can delay the onset of full-blown Aids but there is still no known cure or vaccine.

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