Fears over female HIV infections

Over half of newly confirmed cases are heterosexual

UK - New research from Isis Research, the UK based, independent healthcare market research agency, indicates that 51% of newly diagnosed HIV cases in Europe are in fact heterosexual against just 36% homosexual. Thus the  number of HIV females (39% of the total infected) is quickly catching up with male numbers (61% of the total).

This trend means more babies could be born to HIV-positive women, raising questions about  what treatments to use or avoid during pregnancy and delivery to prevent transmission of the virus to the baby. Currently AZT is the only drug fully approved for pregnancy although small doses of nevirapine have been used to prevent mother-child transmission.

Breast feeding presents a further problem: HIV can be transmitted through breast milk.
The good news: Needle-exchange initiatives across Europe appear effective with transmission via intravenous drug use (IVDU) now almost eradicated in most European countries. However, in the USA homosexual infections are still predominant.

The new Isis figures were based on 3,000 patients in France, Italy, Spain and the UK who received anti-HIV therapy between July-October 2002. 308 of these patients were newly diagnosed in 2002. Of these, over half (51%) were infected through heterosexual contact. In contrast, only 36% were infected during homosexual contact. This is in stark contrast to the picture 10 years ago where Isis Research’ figures show the split was 28% heterosexual against 38% homosexual. (In the US, infections via homosexual contact still lead, at 51%, against 31% heterosexual).

Dr Amanda Zeffman, a senior research executive in the Isis Research HIV therapy monitor team, pointed out: ‘A decade ago, most notably in the UK and Germany, the most frequent mode of HIV transmission was through homosexual contact.’ The new figures suggest that the heterosexual population has become complacent about HIV, presuming wrongly that the disease still only affects homosexuals and drug addicts. ‘There is a clear need for heightened awareness campaigns across Europe targeted at heterosexuals if this rise is to be curtailed.’


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