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WHO warns on HIV spread in Europe and Central Asia

Health officials say Europe and Central Asia must do more to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with some 136,000 people being infected last year. Russia is particularly at risk, they say.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that the HIV/AIDS virus remains a very present danger in Europe and Central Asia, with 80 percent more new HIV cases in 2013 compared with 2004.

Figures from the WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed that altogether 136,235 people were registered as having been newly infected by HIV in 2013, more than 105,000 of them in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

Eighty thousand of these cases were in Russia, according to

the report,

which was released ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

Compared with 2004, EECA has thus seen a doubling of new HIV cases, while European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries have remained at a constant rate of infection, despite advances in treating and preventing the virus.

The report said an HIV epidemic among drug users was the main cause of the increase in EECA, while sex between men accounted for 42 percent of new cases in 2013 in the EU/EEA, making it the largest single source of infection.

Overall, however, heterosexual contact was the main form of transmission, the report said.

Incurable virus

The HIV virus

- an abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus -, which was discovered more than three decades ago, attacks the immune system, causing those infected to suffer a lifelong illness. It leads in its end stage to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which comes about when the immune system has been destroyed, leaving sufferers exposed to a multitude of infectious diseases.

HIV is spread via blood, semen and breast milk, with drug users and bisexual and gay men at particular risk.

Thursday's report also said that while reported AIDS cases had declined by 48 percent in the EU/EEA in the past decade, the number of new AIDS cases in EECA had increased more than three times.

Some 1.5 million people die as a result of HIV/AIDS across the world every year, according to United Nations figures, with 35 million people currently living with an infection.

tj/nm (Reuters, dpa)

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