Holiday Sex Is Top Cause of New HIV; New Figures Released in the Run-Up to World Aids Day on Sunday Show the Number of Diagnosed HIV and Aids Cases in Birmingham and the West Midlands Continues to Increase, as Health and Science Reporter Sophie Blakemore Reports

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Byline: Sophie Blakemore

Since the 1980s campaigners in Britain have worked tirelessly to raise awareness and understanding of HIV and Aids.

The familiar red ribbons sported on lapels are a symbol of the growing numbers of people affected by the infection and a sign that prejudices surrounding it are being slowly removed.

But despite the high-profile prevention campaigns, new figures for 2002 have revealed that cases of HIV and Aids are rising every year in Birmingham, among all sectors of society.

Since 1995 the number of new cases diagnosed has more than doubled. Seven years ago, there were 35 diagnosed new cases. So far this year it is 79.

The total number of people living with HIV or Aids in Birmingham currently stands at 594. Across the West Midlands it is 1,450.

And, in perhaps one of the main areas of concern, the statistics show that the most alarming increase in cases is among heterosexual people travelling abroad and having unprotected sex, with 157 of the 234 infected heterosexuals in the city having contracted the infection this way. As a result of the study, Birmingham's Sexual Health Promotion Service has issued a warning to young people not to be lulled into a false sense of security since the advent of new drugs to fight HIV infection.

High dosage and strictly observed drug combinations in some cases can manage the illness and dramatically slow down the onset of Aids but they are not a cure.

Michelle Burton, World Aids Day co-ordinator for the SHPS, said complacency about sexual health had to be eradicated.

'One of the main reasons we believe numbers of people affected with HIV and Aids is rising is the increased high risk behaviour among people.

'It is not just young teenagers who are placing themselves at risk, in general we are finding more people being promiscuous and not taking precautions. …