Heterosexual intercourse 'commonest HIV source'

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

HETEROSEXUAL intercourse is now the commonest way that HIV infection is being spread in Scotland, and within 10 years Aids could overtake cancer to become the commonest cause of death.

The statistics were described as 'deeply worrying' by Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Robert Kendell, who issued his first annual report yesterday.

The contraction of HIV through heterosexual intercourse was 'high and rising', Dr Kendell said. His report said that in the 12 months to June 1991 the proportion of those found to be newly infected through heterosexual sex was 27 per cent. However in the 12 months to June 1992 the proportion had risen to 34 per cent. Homosexual intercourse accounted for 27 per cent of newly infected cases and intravenous drug abuse accounted for 26 per cent.

Although the figures refer only to Scotland, they will cause considerable concern in relation to future UK studies of HIV infection. The Scottish figures show for the first time heterosexual intercourse overtaking the other causes.

By the end of last year there had been 190 deaths from Aids in Scotland, which is 5.6 per cent of the current UK total. Also 1,750 people were HIV positive.

Dr Kendell's report said Aids had advanced more slowly than had been predicted, and this was almost certainly due partly to health education and the distribution of free needles for drug users.

Dr Kendell warned that Aids deaths in Scotland would rise over the next two or three years. He said homosexuals and drug users had seen their friends die from Aids, and this had affected their behaviour. Among heterosexuals there was still some complacency.

Unless the heterosexual community took on the message now, Dr Kendell said, Aids could be the biggest killer in 10 years' time.

The report also revealed that Scotland's infant mortality rate had fallen to its lowest ever recorded level, 7.1 per 1,000 live births. Cot deaths were also down from 127 in 1990 to 81 in 1991.

Coronary heart disease in men under 65 had also fallen 12 per cent in two years, down from 123.2 per 100,000 in 1989 to 108.9 per 100,000 in 1991.

The Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report, 1991; Scottish Office, St Andrew's House, Edinburgh.