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EDITIONS
Straight sex HIV cases rise
aids pills
HIV may be developing resistance to drugs
More people in the UK contracted HIV through heterosexual sex rather than homosexual activity for the first time last year.

The number of diagnoses of heterosexually-acquired HIV - 1,070 - in 1999 was higher than the 989 infections acquired through sex between men.

The decline in people dying from HIV and Aids in the UK appears to have stopped, triggering warnings against complacency from Aids charities.

Figures collected by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) show more people died of HIV and Aids last year than in 1998, reversing a trend of lower death rates since the introduction of combination therapies.

Last year is also set to show the highest number of new diagnoses of HIV in the 1990s - the PHLS has already received reports of 2,457 new HIV diagnoses in 1999 and expects to be told of many more in the coming months.


The high number of diagnoses is worrying. The data indicate that despite the fact that HIV is a preventable infection, large numbers of infections have continued to occur

Dr Angus Nicoll, PHLS
The 362 deaths so far reported for 1999 is slightly higher than the equivalent figure of 357 for 1998.

Dr Angus Nicoll, head of the PHLS HIV and STD division, said he could not be sure of the reason for this.

"It may be that many of these deaths occur in people who are only diagnosed at the time they become sick with Aids, when it can be too late for them to benefit from the new drug therapies.

"Alternatively, it may represent cases in which the drugs are not effective, perhaps because of the development of resistance."

Real risk

A spokesman for the Health Education Authority said: "The most recent research we have done among the heterosexual community shows that people sometimes do not appreciate that there is a very real risk of HIV transmission.

"These figures show that there is a very real risk and that there is a need to practise safe sex and to use a condom."

A spokesman for the National Aids Trust said: "These infection figures are extremely worrying.

HIV and Aids - UK 1999
Deaths - 362
New Diagnoses - 2,457
New heterosexual diagnoses - 1,070
New homosexual diagnoses - 989
"We are concerned that the UK is losing its way in HIV prevention and more needs to be done to increase awareness."

The majority of heterosexual infections are of people who are from or have spent time in sub-Saharan Africa - the area of the world most affected by HIV and Aids.

It is though the increase in diagnoses may be in part a result of campaigns encouraging people to be tested for HIV and Aids.

Dr Nicoll added: "The high number of diagnoses is worrying. The data indicate that despite the fact that HIV is a preventable infection, large numbers of infections have continued to occur."

He said promoting the message of safe sex was extremely important, as was providing services to people and sharing Aids expertise internationally.

It is estimated that 30,000 people in Britain have HIV, of whom a third do not know they are infected.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Angus Nichol, Public Health Laboratory Service
"People are ignoring the safe sex message"
BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford
"More than 1,100 heterosexuals were infected last year"
See also:

01 Dec 99 | Health
01 Dec 99 | Health
23 Nov 99 | Health
12 Jan 00 | Health
02 Jul 99 | Aids
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