By Jason Gale
* HIV is spreading faster in the U.K. than any other country in the European Union, driven by a resurgence of men having unprotected sex with other men.
The virus that causes AIDS was diagnosed in 8,868 people in the U.K. last year, a prevalence of 148.3 cases per million people, according to a study published yesterday in Eurosurveillance, an online journal of peer-reviewed information on communicable diseases. The country's HIV prevalence has climbed each year since at least 1999 and is now almost twice as high as the Netherlands and five times higher than Germany.
AIDS has killed about 28 million people since it was first recognized in 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Males accounted for two-thirds of the 23,620 new HIV cases reported in the European Union last year. Sex between men accounted for 34 percent, researchers in Sweden and France said in the study.
"In the EU, major advances in treatment have prolonged and improved the lives of infected people,'' said the authors, led by Francoise Hamers at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm. "These therapeutic advances have been paralleled by a decreasing emphasis on HIV prevention and a resurgence of high-risk sexual behaviors among gay men in major EU cities.''
The U.K. diagnosed the most new HIV cases of any country last year in the 25-nation European Union, excluding Italy and Spain, where no national HIV reporting systems are in place. France diagnosed 3,165 new cases.
In Portugal, where HIV prevalence is 251.1 per million people, 2,635 cases were reported last year, ahead of Germany, with 2,451 new cases and a rate of 29.6 per million. Estonia had the highest rate of HIV diagnoses, with 467 cases per million. HIV prevalence among adults aged 15 to 49 years is estimated to be as high as 1.3 percent in the Baltic nation, the report said.
"A key challenge now facing Europe is how to get more of the people who are at risk of HIV infection tested and more people who are HIV-infected being diagnosed, so that they are able not only to access treatment and care, but also to avoid transmitting HIV to others,'' the researchers said.
The estimated proportion of undiagnosed HIV infections in the EU ranges from 15 percent in Sweden to 60 percent in Poland, they said.
About 63,500 adults aged 15 to 59 were living with HIV in the U.K. at the end of 2005, the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency estimates. Of those, 20,100, or almost a third, were unaware of their infection, it said in a report this month.
Reports of new HIV cases in the nation of 60 million people are increasing "due to sustained levels of newly acquired infections in men who have sex with men, further diagnoses among heterosexual men and women who acquired their infection in Africa, and earlier and increased HIV testing,'' the agency said in its "A Complex Picture'' report.
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