Heterosexual HIV epidemic predicted


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GROWING numbers of people in Britain are becoming infected with the Aids virus through heterosexual intercourse.

A government inquiry will report in two weeks that about 7,000 men and women have contracted HIV this way. They fear that the rising number will develop into a lengthy heterosexual epidemic long after the current homosexual one has peaked.

The findings belie the growing belief among some commentators that heterosexual Aids is a myth fostered by gay activists wanting to ensure that the disease is not stigmatised as a homosexual plague, and the 'moral majority' who want to hit back at 1960s promiscuity.

Estimates for the number in Britain infected with HIV range from 20,000 to 30,000. New infections caused by heterosexual contact are believed to outstrip those caused by homosexual contact or intravenous drug use.

A scientific committee, chaired by Professor Nick Day, head of the Biostatistics Unit at the Institute of Public Health in Cambridge, will also report that as many as 8 out of 10 infected heterosexuals are unaware they carry the virus.

However heterosexual cases of Aids - still relatively few - are a measure of what happened 10 years ago. Anonymous testing of blood from babies, pregnant women, patients in hospitals and clinics for sexually transmitted diseases indicate that HIV is spreading slowly within heterosexuals, sowing the seeds for an epidemic over decades.

In London, where the heterosexual epidemic is centred, scientists believe two in every thousand women between 20 and 34 are HIV positive. Most - about 1,500 - have become infected through sexual contact. In Scotland, where many heterosexuals became infected from sharing contaminated needles, heterosexual transmission of HIV is as frequent as transmission through homosexual intercourse and intravenous drug use.

The Aids myths, page 6

Leading article, page 21