Sharp rise in HIV infections

The number of new HIV infections jumped 20 percent in Sweden last year, health officials said Tuesday, quoting preliminary figures that could signal altered attitudes towards the disease that causes AIDS.

In 2007, around 500 new HIV infections were reported in Sweden, up from some 390 new cases reported a year earlier, according to preliminary numbers published by the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (SMI).

“We have especially seen an increase in the number of new infections among men who have sex with men and needle-users,” SMI statistician Malin Arneborn told AFP, adding that Sweden was thus following a trend already seen in other European countries.

While a majority of new HIV patients registered in Sweden each year are infected abroad, SMI said the number of people infected inside the Scandinavian country had soared 70 percent last year.

“All sexually transmittable diseases are increasing. People are having more unprotected sex,” Arneborn said.

The number of men infected through sex with other men grew from 50 in 2006 to around 80 last year, while the number of infected needle users doubled from 35 to around 70 during the same period, according to the preliminary figures.

“We have an ongoing epidemic among needle users in Stockholm. They have been infected by a virus strain that originated in Finland. It probably began spreading in 2006 but the increase only became evident in 2007,” SMI said in a statement.

The increase in infections indicates that people are less worried about contracting the disease than they were a decade ago, according to medical researcher Claes Herlitz who has been tracking Swedish attitudes towards HIV since the late 1980s.

“Interest in HIV/AIDS has gradually declined as people have become more accustomed to the threat … They’ve seen that HIV hasn’t spread as quickly as we thought it would in the late 80s, and there are new medicines making it more difficult to get AIDS. Fewer people are dying,” he told AFP.

On a positive note, Herlitz said people with HIV were less stigmatized today and most people are no longer afraid of having contact with them.

“But perhaps the fear has declined too much. Risky sexual behaviour has increased and a greater number of people are having casual sex without using a condom,” he said.