20 HK men with HIV in net sex link

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Beijing – Twenty men who met through the Internet have been infected with HIV after having unsafe sex, the first such cluster of cases in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong registered a record number of 313 HIV cases in 2005, a rise of 17 percent from 2004 as sexual transmission continues to be the major mode of HIV spread, a health official said.

The 20 men were found between November 2003 and November last year to have HIV with similar gene sequencing, the city’s health department was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying yesterday.

“Preliminary investigations have so far revealed that these cases may be linked and the transmission may have been caused by unprotected sex,” the department said.

“Those affected are believed to have had multiple sex partners and participated in sex activities arranged through the Internet.”

Raymond Ho, the health department’s senior medical officer, said over two-thirds of the people were infected via sexual contact with 30.7 percent of them reported to be homosexuals.

Twenty-five, or 8 percent, were infected through needle-sharing in drug use and four, or 1.3 percent, through blood infusion. Two were infected from mother to child, and the remaining 81 were undetermined.

The cases included 87 people who tested positive in the last quarter. Twenty-two developed AIDS.

The new chief executive of AIDS Concern, Loretta Wong, said, “The use of the Internet is not a big surprise. We know the Internet is being used by people so they can network with each other and find sex partners.”

A further increase in people with HIV would put a heavy strain on medical resources, especially as patients were entitled to antiretroviral treatment, Ho said.

The cocktail drug therapy is provided almost free to HIV sufferers. It is usually given to patients before they develop full-blown AIDS.

From 1984, when monitoring began, to last year, Hong Kong has recorded 2,825 people with HIV, 82 percent of them men. Of the total, 62 percent are locals.

More than half of the HIV cases were heterosexuals, 20 percent were gay and 4 percent bisexual. In 16 percent of cases, the route of transmission could not be determined.