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HIV 'rising at record rates'
Injecting drugs
Injecting drug users are at high risk for HIV infection
It is likely that more people than ever in the UK contracted the Aids virus last year, despite millions spent on health warnings.

New figures released by the Public Health Laboratory Service to coincide with the opening of a major Aids conference in South Africa revealed that 30,000 adults in the UK now have HIV.

While the number of Britons with the virus is still dwarfed by the tragic toll of the disease in Africa, the UK total was described as "worrying" by experts.

In the key age groups, covering those aged 15 to 49, the prevalence of the disease is now approximately 1 in 1,000 people.

The total number of HIV patients in the UK is now increasing by 10% every year.

Dr Angus Nicoll, acting director of the PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Unit in London, said: "The one in 1,000 figure is lower, than, for example, countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the epidemic is extremely severe, and prevalence in this age group has reached one in five or even higher.

"But there is no cause for complacency in the UK."

HIV-prevention has been the focus of multi-million pound publicity campaigns since the mid-1980s.

Unprotected sex

The virus is normally spread through unprotected sex, either heterosexual or homosexual.

Increasing numbers of other sexually-transmitted diseases in recent years, such as gonnorrhea, suggest that there is now less reliance on safe sex practices.

One of the key factors, however, in the recent increases, is the re-emergence of injecting drug use, and the sharing of needles which can lead to infection.

The number of injecting drug users has increased by more than 30% since 1997.

This rise has also been blamed for an upsurge in the number of infections with the dangerous virus hepatitis C, which can leave a patient needing a liver transplant.

The sheer scale of Africa's HIV crisis was highlighted as the 13th International Aids Conference opened on Sunday.

Conference chairman Professor Hoosen Coovadia said: "Over four million South Africans are living with HIV/Aids, and there are more than 1,700 new infections occurring daily in this country."

As many as 90% of the world's population affected by the virus live in developing countries.


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Special report on Africa's battle against Aids
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See also:

19 Apr 00 | Health
09 Jul 00 | Health
10 Jul 00 | Africa
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