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Thousands unaware they have HIV
HIV pills
Drugs treatments can prevent death from Aids
A third of the 30,000 adults infected with HIV in the UK are thought to be unaware of their condition.

The problem is particularly serious among pregnant women. It contributed to the birth of approximately 60 babies infected with HIV last year.

Public health survey data show that the number of infected people has risen sharply over the last three years.

This is due to better drugs keeping people alive, and a steady level of new infections.

The number of people living with a diagnosed HIV infection in England, Wales and Northern Ireland increased by almost 30% between 1995 and 1998.


The number of people living with HIV is constantly increasing

Dr Angus Nicoll, Public Health Laboratory Service
There were almost 10,000 diagnoses of HIV infection between 1995 and 1998.

The number last year was the highest for more than a decade.

However, advances in drug therapy have meant that fewer people are now dying from the disease.

In 1996, 1,236 people died from Aids in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Last year the figure was 395.

A Department of Health report "Prevalence of HIV in the UK 1998" describes the results of surveys conducted by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), the Institute of Child Health, and the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health.

Drugs reduce Aids death

Dr Angus Nicoll of the PHLS said: "The advent of new drug therapies a few years ago means that many people who are diagnosed with HIV are being treated so that they do not go on to die from an Aids-related illness.

"This means the number of people living with HIV is constantly increasing.

"Obviously these new drugs are a good thing because for many patients they keep HIV infection under control and reduce Aids-related deaths, but they are not a cure and must not be seen as such.

"These drugs do not completely remove the virus from the body. Prevention is still the key to combating HIV."

The estimated number of people unaware that they are infected with HIV is based on the results of anonymous screening tests carried out in various different communities.

Dr Nicoll said: "These new figures also indicated that about a third of people with HIV are unaware of their infection.

"It is important to ensure that everyone has access to HIV testing services so that if they believe they have been at risk they can be tested."

Pregnant women undiagnosed

The proportion of HIV infections not diagnosed among pregnant women is higher than any other group.

There were more than 300 births to HIV infected women last year and this is estimated to have led to 60 babies being infected.

About 60% of HIV-infected women giving birth in the UK did not know they had the virus.

They were therefore unable to make use of treatments designed to reduce mother to child transmission.

The report showed that HIV transmission rates are highest among gay men.

But there are also increasing number of people who were exposed to infection in Africa.

More drug users are also sharing needles, increasing their risk of contracting HIV.

Although there was no indication of a consequent increase in HIV transmission, reports of hepatitis B and other blood-borne viruses had risen.

The National Aids Trust warned that the UK was in danger of becoming complacent about the virus.

Director Derek Bodell said: "We are in danger of letting our guard down on this disease - just when we need to be vigilant.

"Our big fear is that people think there is a cure for HIV. New drug treatments are helping a lot of people but they have not yet cured anyone with the virus.

"We don't know how long the drugs will be effective and there are signs from the US that their current success could be waning."

See also:

23 Nov 99 | Health
18 Aug 99 | Health
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