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Unsafe, casual sex helping spread AIDS
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AIDS is spreading to the general population in Sichuan, health officials said yesterday.

In the past decade, the percentage of people contracting the disease through sex has increased more than seven times to 15 percent, they said.

Xu Baohua, an official with the Sichuan provincial department of health's disease control and prevention section, told China Daily: "It shows AIDS is spreading from high-risk groups to ordinary people in the province."

He was speaking following the completion of a recent investigation into the disease by the health department.

While AIDS was found mainly in high-risk groups such as drug addicts and prostitutes 10 years ago, it is now being detected in "pregnant women, government officials and young people who have physical examinations in order to enrol in the army", Xu said.

The province's first AIDS case was reported in 1991 and involved a person returning from abroad.

The number of HIV and AIDS cases is now more than 10,000, Xu said.

"They are scattered across Sichuan's 160 counties and districts," he said.

Zhang Linglin, chief of the province's sexually transmitted disease and AIDS dispensary, said yesterday that early and casual sex had increased the spread of HIV.

Zhang, who was involved in the health department's latest investigation, said about 80 percent of the HIV carriers in Sichuan were aged between 20 and 39.

"They are most likely to spread the virus because they are sexually active," he said.

The investigation showed that of those who have sex at a very young age or have multiple sex partners or engage in casual sex, less than 50 percent used preventive measures.

Since the country embarked on its policy of reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, tens of millions of farmers from the province have flocked to cities to seek better-paying jobs.

"But quite a number of these do not use condoms or take other preventive measures at all," Zhang said.

He said it is difficult to control the spread of AIDS if it is transmitted from high-risk groups to the general population through sex.

Unlike other contagious diseases, the HIV virus can exist in the human body for a long time before it develops into full-blown AIDS.

"But the virus can spread to lots of people during this period," said Zhang, who also urged the public to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In 1995, Sichuan enacted the country's first local ordinance pertaining to the prevention of AIDS.

"Although Sichuan has done a good job in fighting the spread of the disease and its numbers of HIV carriers and AIDs patients are less than in many other provinces, it still has a long way to go as there is no cure," Zhang said.

(China Daily November 27, 2007)

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