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2005-12-01-Agency fear over STI rise in NI
Sexually transmitted infections are continuing to rise at an "alarming" rate in Northern Ireland, according to the Health Promotion Agency.
Since records began, 520 people have been treated for HIV and 92 have died from Aids-related illnesses.
Between 2003 and 2004, the number of new cases of HIV diagnosed in Northern Ireland has almost doubled.
Speaking on World Aids Day, Dr Brian Gaffney of the Health Promotion Agency said cases were rising very quickly.
There were 63 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Northern Ireland in 2004 compared to 32 new cases in 2003, and three new cases of Aids were diagnosed in 2004, compared to one in 2003.
"People in Northern Ireland need to wise up to the fact that HIV is here and that the number of the infections will continue to escalate if the safer sex message is ignored," Dr Gaffney said.
"There are strong links between risky sexual behaviour, particularly among young people, and the misuse of alcohol and drugs which can have serious implications for both their physical and mental health.
"Practising safer sex is the best protection against the spread of a range of STIs including HIV."
A key theme of this year's UK campaign for World Aids Day is to encourage people to wise up to the facts about HIV and Aids and to wear the red ribbon to support those living with the disease.
Carmel Kelly of the GUM Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital said: "Because we know there are people living with HIV who are unaware of their diagnosis, we have recently started to offer HIV testing routinely to all new attendees at the clinic.
"While we know there is a huge emotional impact from a HIV diagnosis we also believe there are benefits.
"Diagnosis at an early stage allows us to monitor the impact of the virus on the body, and opens the opportunities for treatment to postpone further illness and can help to prevent further new infections.
"We know from routine antenatal testing that we can greatly reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child, if the mother is aware of her infection."
Globally, there are an estimated 40.3m people living with HIV with 5m new infections every year.
In 2005, more than 3m people died from Aids-related illnesses, of which more than 500,000 were children.