HIV rates soar by 450% in ten years

HIV rates in the east of England have risen by 450% in the last ten years - the highest increase in the country.Latest figures, released yesterday by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), show that 424 people in the region were diagnosed with the virus in 2007.

Craig Robinson

HIV rates in the east of England have risen by 450% in the last ten years - the highest increase in the country.

Latest figures, released yesterday by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), show that 424 people in the region were diagnosed with the virus in 2007.

This compares to just 74 in 1997 - a rise of 473% and the largest increase in the whole of the UK.

The east of England, made up of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, had its highest number of HIV infections - 599 - diagnosed in 2004.

In the year after the number dropped to 536 and in 2006 it was at 538, the figures show.

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Dr Mark Reacher, HPA consultant epidemiologist for the east of England, said: “Sex with a new or multiple partners is risky and although HIV treatment is now effective it is not a cure for this infection.

“Prevention is far better than any treatment and our advice is that anyone entering into a new or casual sexual relationship should always use condoms.”

The East Midlands has the second highest rise in the UK (387%) - from 74 diagnosed HIV infections in 1997 to 424 in 2007.

The most cases were recorded in London - 2,916 last year - a rise of 68% compared to ten years earlier when there were 1,737.

A spokeswoman for the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA), said primary care trusts across the region were working to integrate sexual health services in order to provide both GUM and contraceptive services at one point.

“In February this year an extra £14 million was allocated to SHAs to invest in ways of helping young people get access to sexual health advice and contraception,” she said. “All pregnant women are offered a HIV test, and the east of England has a high level of uptake for screening.

“We also have the lowest rate for transmission of HIV from infected women to children at birth (4.1% compared to 9.8% nationally).

The NHS is available to offer support and advice to anyone who thinks they may be at risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STI).

“We would encourage anyone who thinks they may be at risk of contracting a STI to seek advice and get tested,” the spokeswoman said. “HIV is preventable by practising safe sex and using a condom.”

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