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The number of people infected with HIV in the United Kingdom increased by almost 20% between 2001 and 2002, from 41 700 to 49 500, says a report published by the Health Protection Agency to mark world AIDS day, 1 December.
Also, the proportion of people who acquire their infection in the United Kingdom, as opposed to overseas, is increasing, the report says.
Kevin Fenton, a public health consultant on HIV at the agency, said, “World AIDS day reminds us that the problems we face with HIV are not going away, despite it being a disease that is largely preventable. The group most at risk of contracting HIV in the UK remains gay and bisexual men, accounting for about 80% (1500) of the new diagnoses in 2002 that were likely to have been acquired in the UK.”
An increase in high risk sexual behaviour among gay and bisexual men has also led to major rises in the rates of other sexually transmitted infections. For example, the number of cases of gonorrhoea among gay men has almost doubled (from 1842 in 1999 to 3363 in 2002), and cases of syphilis have increased from 52 to 607 over the same period. As sexually transmitted infections facilitate the transmission of HIV, it is possible that the rise in these diseases may have played a part in the increase in HIV infection among gay men.
Among heterosexual people the number of infections of HIV likely to have been acquired in this country increased from 147 in 1998 to 275 in 2002. Again, increases in sexually transmitted infections—which have been most marked in young people and some ethnic minority communities—mean that the risk of onward transmission of HIV among heterosexual people in the United Kingdom remains a public health concern.
These rises are putting sexual health services under increasing pressure, and services will need to respond to the growing number and varied needs of people who are HIV positive, the report says.
It highlights a number of prevention strategies, including offering annual tests for HIV to gay and bisexual men attending genitourinary clinics, and doing further studies of sexual behaviour among HIV positive people.
Renewing the Focus: HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections in the United Kingdom in 2002 is available at www.hpa.org.uk