AIDS Transforms Itself
To Win New Victims - Straight
Sex Now #1 Mode Of Infection
LONDON (Reuters) - As the AIDS epidemic enters its third decade the disease that has confounded scientists has shown that it can mutate and transform itself as easily and as often as the HIV virus that causes it. From an unknown illness afflicting gay men in large U.S. cities in the early 1980s, AIDS has exploded into a global epidemic that is touching all ages and social groups in rural and urban areas in wealthy nations and decimating entire countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Complicated, costly cocktails of antiretroviral drugs are keeping sufferers alive long after they would have died a decade ago. But the disease is still claiming new victims in western countries despite sophisticated public health campaigns and the large drug arsenals.
Fewer people are dying of the disease in the United States and Europe and infection rates are no longer soaring, but they are creeping up, particularly in groups previously untouched by the disease.
"It is a different disease now than it was 10 years ago," said Tony Farmer, of the New York-based National Association of People Living with AIDS.
"You have the numbers to show that you still get a large percentage of young gay/bisexual men but you also see that numbers for people of colour and the young are on the rise."
An estimated 900,000 people are living with the HIV virus in North America and about a third of them do not know it. Western Europe accounts for slightly more than half a million of the world's 34.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
The numbers are small compared with sub-Saharan Africa's 24.5 million or the 5.6 million people in south and southeast Asia with the illness. But they are significant because they illustrate the persistence of the disease in countries that have been fighting it the longest.
"The epidemic is nowhere near over," said Farmer, referring to the United States. "In fact the estimates are that there is going to be a resurgence."
Similar fears have surfaced in Europe and in Britain, where the highest number of new infections in a decade were reported last year. More heterosexuals than gays were also infected in Britain for the first time since the start of the epidemic.
"The need for this country to have a strategic approach to HIV has never been greater," Derek Bodell, the chief executive of Britain's National AIDS Trust, told Reuters.
The effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs has transformed the disease from a death sentence into more of a chronic condition which has produced a complacency in risky sexual behaviour among some groups and in some governments in dealing with the disease.
"Many people misunderstood the drugs, thinking they were a cure when in fact they were just a way of controlling the virus for a period of time," explained Farmer.
"Because of that the media didn't look at HIV/AIDS with the same eye as it used to and the public didn't consider it as the devastating health crisis."
In San Francisco, the proportion of gay men reporting multiple partners and unprotected anal sex rose between 1994 and 1998, in parallel with a steep rise in gonorrhoea.
British cases of the sexually transmitted disease also soared between 1998 and 1999 with a 52 percent increase in gonorrhoea among 16- to 19-year-old males.
"There are some very worrying markers of sexual ill health," said Nick Partridge of the Terence Higgins Trust, a London-based AIDS charity.
"How those flow across into HIV infections is still debatable but it is quite clear that the work that needs to be done in young people at greatest risk is as urgent now as it ever has been in the epidemic," he added.
The safe sex message is still important but AIDS activists say the way it is delivered to a new generation of sexually active young adults, who have never known a world without AIDS, has to change. _____
Straight Sex Now Main Source Of AIDS
By Nigel Hawkes - Science Editor 7-4-00
More cases of HIV infection in Britain were acquired through heterosexual rather than homosexual contact last year for the first time.
Details released by Yvette Cooper, the Public Health Minister, in a parliamentary answer show that 45 per cent of infections reported last year were probably as a result of heterosexual contact, compared with 42 per cent from homosexual contact.
Public Health Laboratory Service figures show that the trend towards heterosexual transmission has gathered pace this year. Of cases recorded to the end of March 2000, 53 per cent were heterosexually acquired, against 45 per cent by homosexual contact.
These figures are the latest in a trend that has been visible for several years. In 1997, 56 per cent of infections were thought to be a result of homosexual contact and 32 per cent from heterosexual contact. The number of infections from drug abuse are down.
Of the 1,277 heterosexually acquired cases in 1999, 818 had been caught in Africa, 58 in Latin America and 56 in Asia.
The National Aids Trust said that it was important to remember that most cases of new infections in the UK were still among the gay community.
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