The number of people in Britain infected with HIV rose by 20 per cent last year to 49,000. How do they, their partners and their families cope?

'You have to be honest about disclosure, though I have not found it easy'

Gus Cairns, 47, Magazine editor

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. I became very sick in 1995-96 and nearly died. I had a boyfriend at the time who stayed with me every step of the way. We broke up this summer, so I'm a 47-year-old man on the pull again.

I am one of those people who was kept along by anti-retrovirals and have lived a long time. But there was a point in my life where I was considered "terminally ill". Now I have a full-time job as the editor of Positive Nation, a UK magazine about HIV and sexual health.

I don't think people are complacent about HIV, or with sexual health. In some cases, they're ignorant, especially with the younger generation. There is undoubtedly a lot more unprotected sex than there used to be. The number of HIV cases has doubled in the UK in the past five years, along with a steep incline of reported cases of other sexually transmitted infections.

The experts in public health awareness and HIV prevention are now left slightly scratching their heads at what kinds of messages work. Statistics are a good way of showing what's going on. A simple statistic like: you are two times more likely to catch HIV than you were five years ago might be an effective wake-up call.

If you've had safe sex, then there is no problem. If you have done something in the heat of passion, there is a problem. They freak out and you feel guilty. Of course, you have to be honest about disclosure, but I have not found it easy. I am a pretty publicly positive, so it's got to be even harder for other people.

'My boyfriend cried but we never split'

Tina Knight, 30, Post-graduate student

I was diagnosed with HIV eight years ago. I have always tried my best not to hate HIV. My main focus has been to plant a positive seed of hope and to watch it grow into coping and living with this disease.

Disclosure was the hardest thingto deal with. My boyfriend cried, but we never split up and have been married for two years.

I began researching the disease like mad. All the literature seemed geared either for homosexuals or for older people. None of the posters related to me, and all of the jargon was hard to understand.

I finally found Body and Soul, an HIV/Aids support organisation that is geared towards heterosexuals and children. I found people who were living through parallel experiences to my own, and it was very comforting.

I am now studying for my Masters degree in sustainable development and I work at Body and Soul part-time.

I have never gone on any medication since my diagnosis. I learn about different alternative treatments and believe in them whole-heartedly.

One day there will be medications that prevent the virus passing from mother to foetus. My husband and I plan to have a child.

'I had never heard of HIV before'

Clint Walters, 24, Youth worker

I had no sexual education when I was in school. I went to an all-boys school in Oxford, and sex education there was a one-hour video about avoiding pregnancy. I had never heard of HIV before my diagnosis in 1997, when I was 17. At the time, I was extremely ill with pneumonia.

I was told that I had about 10 possible years of good health ahead of me. I drank for the first few months, then went back to school to take my A-levels. By then it was out that I was gay. I decided I needed to get out of England, so I moved to San Francisco.

I initially worked at the University of California, San Francisco, Aids department as a harm-reduction counsellor. For all the genito-urinary medical centres in Britain, none of them offer psychological or emotional support. I spent a year in San Francisco learning how to give the support that is so hard to find. I also began working with a youth-run sexual health organisation called Health Initiatives for Youth.

I began writing up a business plan at the end of my time in California to bring a branch to Britain. I finally opened a chapter in London in August 1999.

Statistics show HIV is about risk-taking. The behaviour is at the root of the problem. Sex is glamorised in the media and, at the same time, youths aren't properly educated about it. Abstinence is the only real way to avoid HIV. Unfortunately, it's not a realistic message for young people. People need to combat stigma and ignorance, and people need to change the way they view sexuality and protection.

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