HIV infections surge by 22%

THREE-QUARTERS of heterosexuals recently diagnosed with HIV are women, statistics released by the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) show.

Many of the cases have been identified through screenings of women provided through the antenatal services.

The figures for last year reveal yet another substantial rise in the number of HIV infections to 364 a 22% increase on 2001.

Just over 63% of all new cases were among heterosexuals a rise of 34% between 2001 and 2002, and over 80% of these cases were in the 20 to 40 age bracket.

Of all the cases diagnosed last year, almost 55% were women and just over 45% were men.

There was also a rise in the number of infections in intravenous drug users, from 38 to 50 a 32% increase, a figure believed to reflect the increase in the number of people injecting cocaine.

However, NDSC public health specialist Dr Mary Cronin warned that the figures should be interpreted with caution as it remained to be seen if the trend would be maintained. There were 46 new diagnoses among gay men, compared with 73 for the previous year a 37% decrease and a trend that reflects successful efforts to control the spread of the disease.

Just over half of the recently diagnosed cases were among people born in sub-Saharan Africa. The figure mirrors the spread of HIV in other western European countries and was not unexpected given that 70% of the world's HIV cases are found in sub-Saharan Africa.

There were eight children diagnosed with HIV infection during 2002. There were also 119 babies born to HIV-infected mothers during the same year. The babies are still too young for their infection status to be determined.

There were 12 cases of AIDS reported to the NDSC during 2002, bringing the total number of cases to 731 a figure likely to be an underestimation as there is a delay in reporting such cases. Seven of the 12 cases reported last year were among heterosexuals. There were four AIDS-related deaths reported last year, bringing the total number of such deaths in Ireland to 369.

Labour's Liz McManus described the rise in HIV infections as a worrying increase and said a renewed and sustained public information campaign about HIV and AIDS was needed.

Dublin AIDS Alliance executive director Ann Nolan said there was now empirical evidence of a link between the rise in the number of HIV infections and the increase in cocaine consumption through injection.

"We could learn from what the gay community has done to control the spread of the virus. We also need to ensure that our prevention strategies are culturally specific and linguistic appropriate so we meet the needs of everybody living in this country," she said.

More in this section