April 23, 2009 / 8:23 PM / 11 years ago

Drug users drive AIDS in southern China - report

WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - Drug users appear to drive the AIDS epidemic in China’s southern Guangdong province, Chinese and U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.

They found a sharp increase in the number of HIV infections in the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, but said it was likely due to better surveillance. They found 4,593 people with HIV infection in 2007.

"Among males classified by HIV transmission category, 82.1 percent of newly diagnosed infections were attributed to injection-drug use," the team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Guangdong Center for Disease Control and colleagues wrote in the weekly CDC report on death and disease.

"Among females classified by HIV transmission category, 53.7 percent engaged in high-risk heterosexual conduct."

The epidemic mirrors changes in China as a whole, where experts estimate 700,000 people are infected with HIV, more than 70 percent of them unaware of it. In 2007, 20,000 people died of AIDS and 50,000 were newly infected.

"The recent increase in reported HIV cases attributed to high-risk heterosexual contact and the decline in cases attributed to injection-drug use might suggest a shift in Guangdong’s HIV epidemic similar to the national trend, in which heterosexual transmission was the main transmission category in China in 2007," CDC’s comment on the report reads.

"Migrant women who lack appropriate job skills or who seek to supplement the family income might become sex workers, and migrant men living apart from their spouses might become clients of sex workers," the commentary adds.

Only 102 HIV cases were reported in Guangdong in 1997, but there was little surveillance.

Globally, the AIDS virus infects 33 million people. It has killed 25 million. There is no cure for the virus and no vaccine, but drugs can keep patients healthy for years. (Reporting by Maggie Fox)

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