HIV is spreading in China from high-risk groups to the general public as the number of reported infections has grown by nearly 30 percent this year, the China Daily said Wednesday.
The latest statistics from the health ministry showed the reported number of cases has grown to 183,733 this year, up from 144,089 at the end of last year, the newspaper said. Of the reported cases, 40,667 have developed into AIDS.
"Health officials attributed many of the new cases to better reporting of existing cases, though they also warned that the virus seemed to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public," the China Daily said.
However, experts from the UN and the health ministry said the true number of cases far exceeded those reported to the government. They estimated that about 650,000 people in China carried HIV at the end of December 2005, suggesting that many people were unaware they carried the virus, the newspaper reported.
As of Oct 31, 12,464 people have died in China as a result of illnesses associated with HIV, Hao Yang, deputy director of the ministry's Disease Control Bureau, was quoted as saying.
The virus appeared to be spreading from so-called high-risk groups to the general public, Hao said.
Unsafe sexual contact was causing increasingly more infections, representing 28 percent of the total. Before 2002, 10 percent of all infections were caused by sexual contact, the paper said.
Drug abuse accounted for 37 percent of the cases reported in the first 10 months of the year.
Hao said drug abuse and unsafe sexual activity posed a great danger because effective measures to prevent that kind of behaviour "are not yet in place".
An investigation by public health workers found that only 38 percent of prostitutes in certain areas insisted on using condoms during intercourse and about half of the drug abusers surveyed still shared needles while taking intravenous drugs.
Statistics showed that in some areas the infection rate among gay men was 1 to 4 percent. The report did not give further details.
Among the total reported cases this year, 5.1 percent were caused by people selling blood illegally or receiving infected blood from hospitals, the paper said.