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HIV cases in Britain reach 49,500 after record rise
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
25 November 2003
The global epidemic of HIV, the virus that causes Aids, is tightening its grip on Britain with a record number of new cases diagnosed last year.
Soaring rates of all sexually transmitted infections are fuelling the rise, with an estimated 49,500 people living with HIV in 2002, an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year.
Over 15,000 of these - one third - do not know they are infected, increasing the potential for further spread, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) which released the figures ahead of World Aids Day on 1 December.
The epidemic in the UK has also speeded up because of complacency among young people about the risks of unprotected sex and the mistaken belief that the disease has been beaten by modern treatments.
There were 5,711 new diagnoses of HIV to the end of September last year, the highest since records began in 1987. The rest of the increase, from a total of 41,700 diagnosed cases in 2001, was due to sufferers' blood being tested without their knowledge.
The number of new cases was 15 per cent up on the 4,982 diagnosed in 2001 and is expected to rise to 6,400 when all the reports are received. The rate of infection has more than doubled since 1997.
Two-thirds of the cases were acquired outside the UK, triggering renewed calls yesterday for immigrants to be screened. The cases' overseas origin - most from sub-Saharan Africa - has changed the nature of the epidemic, with heterosexual cases now outnumbering homosexual/bisexual infections two to one.