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Saturday, 30 November, 2002, 15:35 GMT
New HIV cases rise sharply in UK
Blood test for HIV
More people are being diagnosed than ever before
The number of people newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK has risen by 25% over the last year, latest figures suggest.

The news comes ahead of World Aids Day on Sunday, and as the government launches a fresh attempt to promote safe sex.

The figures suggest about 41,000 people in the UK now have HIV and more people have been infected this year than in any comparable period since records began.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) recorded 2,945 new diagnoses in the year to the end of September - compared with 2,354 in the same period last year.

Every single HIV diagnosis is a devastating blow to the patient and their family

Dr Kevin Fenton, PHLS
Infection rates are particularly high among homosexual men - about 1,500 are now thought to be contracting HIV each year.

Black people are also suffering a particularly high rate of infection.

And there is a significant increase in the number of heterosexuals being infected abroad - especially in Africa.

Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have also been rising sharply.

Syphilis infection has risen by 400% since 1995.

Growing outbreak

The PHLS says that its figures prove that there remains a significant problem with new infections - despite years of "safe sex" messages.

Dr Kevin Fenton from the PHLS said: "This record high for HIV diagnoses is very concerning, especially as data indicate that ongoing transmission of HIV is occurring.

"We are not only diagnosing infections which were acquired many years ago. HIV is a current, not a historical problem."

The campaign is aimed at young adults
Worldwide figures released this week show the UK's problem is tiny in comparison with the epidemic in southern Africa, and the growing outbreak in India and China.

But Dr Fenton said the message still needed to be driven home to prevent new infections taking off in the UK.

He said: "Safer sex is everybody's responsibility, not only those who have been diagnosed with HIV or with other STIs.

"The fact of the matter is that everybody needs to be aware of the risks.

"Every single HIV diagnosis is a devastating blow to the patient and their family."

The figures were released alongside a new government campaign aimed at young adults.

Its theme is the "Sex Lottery", with adverts in newspapers highlighting the dangers of, among other infections, chlamydia and herpes.

Infection on the rise
One in nine has an STI
STIs up 61% over 10 years
Gonorrhoea up 35%
Chlamydia up 122%
Syphilis up 204%
Chlamydia is the most common STI
Genital warts is second most common
Sam, a 28-year-old HIV positive homosexual man, said he wasn't surprised by the increase in the number of infections.

"People definitely do feel the risk is over - the general feeling is nobody's dying any more. That isn't true. I don't understand where the government's coming from.

"It seems as if all the campaigning about safe sex and all those messages that were so strong in the 1980s all seem to have disappeared."

But some now feel the government is ignoring one major part of the rise in HIV, the number of cases "imported" in the form of students, workers and asylum seekers, many of them from Africa.

Anthony Browne, who writes for the Times newspaper, said: "The real public health problem in terms of HIV is not gay sex, it is not heterosexual sex, it's not intravenous drug use.

"Immigration has overtaken gay sex as the main form of HIV into Britain - the government isn't tackling that, isn't doing anything about it."

The BBC's Gill Higgins
"Prevention is still the only way to stop deaths from Aids"
Andrew Ridley, Terrence Higgins Trust
"The campaign the government has launched this weekend is the first in 15 years"
Hazel Blears, public health minister
"Our policy is to have voluntary testing as we don't want to drive people underground"

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