Number of New HIV Infections Contracted Through Heterosexual Contact Rising in Western Europe
The number of new HIV infections transmitted through heterosexual intercourse rose by nearly 50% in Western Europe between 1995 and 2000, according to a study in the June 1 issue of BMJ, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 5/31). Researchers from the Public Health Laboratory Service in England and the European Center for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS in France evaluated national trends in HIV infections among 10 western European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The study states that the number of new HIV infections transmitted through homosexual contact fell slightly from 2,762 per year in 1995 to 2,426 per year in 2000 in Western Europe. However, the number of infections transmitted through heterosexual contact "surged" 48% during the same time period, rising from 2,127 infections per year in 1995 to 3,156 infections per year in 2000. Overall, sexually transmitted new HIV infections rose by 20% over the five-year period. New infections contracted through needle sharing declined by 32% between 1995 and 2000. The rise in sexually transmitted HIV infections could be attributed to several factors, including an increase in risky sexual behavior, a growing "complacency" concerning HIV/AIDS and the migration of Eastern Europeans to Western Europe, the researchers write.
Improving Disease Tracking Systems
The study also collected data on gonorrhea and syphilis infections from 1995 to 2000, although not all countries had figures available for these diseases. Gonorrhea infections are rising in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, while syphilis is increasing among men who have sex with men in the Netherlands, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the researchers were unable to completely determine trends for the two diseases because routine data on the infections are not complete. Although there was a noted increase in the rise of gonorrhea infections in Western Europe, there is little data available on syphilis in the region. "This report could not be fully successful in reviewing trends in gonorrhea and infectious syphilis in Western Europe because of the lack of any coordinated or systematic surveillance in Europe for sexually transmitted infections apart from HIV," the study states. The study also notes that several European countries "most affected by HIV" -- France, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- dot not collect national reporting data on HIV infection. The study concludes, "Given the rising trends in multiple countries, the case for developing surveillance of sexually transmitted infections and antimicrobial resistance across Europe is strong" (Nicoll/Hamers, BMJ, 6/1).