Fear and Suspicion as St Ives Awaits HIV Results

Article excerpt

The crude police-style body outline daubed on the road behind the harbour is accompanied by a piece of scrawled, ungram-matical advice. "Should of worn a condom," the graffiti reads.

St Ives, one of England's most beautiful seaside resorts, is struggling with the disturbing realisation that it has a major HIV outbreak in its midst. While graffiti can quickly be covered up, the Cornish community's anxiety is less easily concealed.

On Monday, the first results of the HIV tests, undertaken after health officials announced they had uncovered up to 10 cases in the town, will be known.

With the source of the biggest heterosexual outbreak in Britain for 10 years still a mystery, the tests could provide a breakthrough in establishing his or her identity. So far more than 200 people have called the dedicated helpline to arrange tests.

In such a small community -St Ives' population is 6,000 - rumours are rife. "That's the name that's being spread around," confided one shopkeeper to a customer, before swiftly adding: "But it's not fair to gossip."

Martin Page, who moved to St Ives 30 years ago, said the impact on the lives of people in the town could not be underestimated. "The chances are that whoever is involved will not want to stay here," he said. "Some people will be having HIV tests done in Plymouth because they do not even want people to know. People have not changed their behaviour here since the late Seventies and the place has always had abohemian atmosphere."

St Ives has attracted a thriving artistic community for decades as well as a more traditional holiday crowd. But it retains its sense of identity as a community.

Sonia Pacey, sales assistant at the Wind and Sea Surfing Centre, said that the scare was frightening because St Ives is such a small place. "I have heard rumours that it is one man, and, if it was that person, everybody would be very annoyed," she said.

Jonny Dex, 26, manager of the Iso Bar, St Ives' only nightclub, said: "Because St Ives has a small population, there are likely to be more people who have shared the same sexual partners."

More than 70 people in Cornwall are being treated for HIV and Aids. In 2004, there were 49 new cases in Devon and Cornwall combined. An Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by the National Aids helpline last year, found that, nationwide, people were less aware of how HIV was transmitted than five years ago. …