50% Heterosexuals With
HIV May Not Know It
By Luke Edwards
As many as one in two heterosexual people are infected with HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids, and do not know it, according to a North expert on infectious diseases.
Dr Mike Snow, consultant physician at the HIV service, part of the department of infection and tropical medicine at Newcastle General Hospital, believes a certain level of complacency regarding safe sex has increased the danger of people catching the virus.
His comments came after last year's revelations that for the first time the number of registered cases of HIV infections among heterosexuals were larger than those among the gay and bisexual community.
Speaking on last night's Lifeline programme on Tyne Tees, Dr Snow said: "While statistically the numbers of people catching HIV are small, that does not mean the danger is not a real one.
"The fact remains that the numbers are not going down they are getting bigger so the problem has certainly not gone away. Significantly while a perhaps a third of gay people who have the virus have not been tested, this figure could be as much as 50% of heterosexual carriers."
He feels the failure of the AIDS epidemic to materialise, widely predicted when the disease was first identified in the 1980s, has led society to drop its guard. For some the disease is still regarded as a danger only for the gay community, despite last year's statistics showing heterosexual cases to be on the increase.
The availability of improved medicine to combat the disease has also bred a certain ambivalent attitude, but he is quick to emphasis that while the quality and length of life for HIV carriers can be improved there is still no cure.
He added: "While modern medicine, in particular the triple drug cocktails, can improve the quality and length of life for a HIV carrier, they are not a cure and there is no easy option. The availability of drugs is not a substitute for practising safer sex.
"I think what needs to be done is that children need to be educated at an early age about the need for safe sex and this needs to become a part of the curriculum as it were. I'm sure this may attract criticism from some quarters but it is a matter of public health, not public morals."

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