Record rise in infections with Aids virus rings alarm bells The discovery of a third cluster of HIV infections and the rapidly increasing number of new cases in the city is setting off alarm bells among health officials and Aids activists. The discovery of the third cluster, which involved at least eight men, was revealed yesterday as health officials reported 111 new HIV cases between April and June - a record for new cases in a single quarter. The Centre for Health Protection found the eight Chinese men, aged 22 to 42, had an HIV infection with similar gene sequencing. They were diagnosed between May last year and July this year and all had contracted the virus through homosexual or bisexual contact. 'The detection of this new cluster echoed the rising number of reported HIV infections in men who have sex with men. It suggested the presence of a local HIV transmission in Hong Kong,' Wong Ka-hing, a consultant with the Department of Health's Special Prevention Programme, said. 'We are also very concerned that the men in this cluster are all quite young, with an average age of 30. 'According to a previous Chinese University study, men infected with HIV liked finding homosexual sex partners on the internet and having sex at home. They sometimes took soft drugs before having sex, which lowered their vigilance of the danger of unsafe sex,' Dr Wong said. The first cluster of HIV infections, affecting 20 men who met through the internet, was found in Hong Kong in February last year. By June, the cluster had expanded to 66 people. A second cluster was found in December, involving 12 men. One more man was found linked to that cluster in the first quarter of this year. The centre also recorded 111 reports of new HIV cases between April and June this year, comprising 96 men and 15 women - 22 per cent more than the previous quarter when 91 new cases were reported. Of the new cases, 36 acquired the infection through heterosexual contact, 38 through homosexual or bisexual contact and 10 through intravenous drug use. The routes of transmission of the remaining cases were undetermined. Aids Concern's chief executive, Loretta Wong Wei-kwan, said the rising number of cases was 'very worrying', saying it was the first time the number of new cases in a single quarter had reached three digits. She called on the government to launch outreach efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV from spiralling out of control. 'The government shouldn't just design TV commercials and newspaper advertisements, it should put more resources into community work to change the behaviour of the target group and work with NGOs,' she said. The total number of reported HIV infections has reached 3,400 since the first case was found in the city in 1984, of which 75 per cent were contracted through sexual contact. In the second quarter of this year, 18 new cases of Aids were reported, bringing the total number of confirmed Aids cases reported since 1985 to 893. Barry Lee Man-wai, a senior projects officer at the Hong Kong Aids Foundation, said it was worrying that the number of HIV infections among homosexual men had increased rapidly in the past two years. The foundation has provided rapid, free and anonymous HIV tests in Central since May this year, offering 100 tests a month. The usage rate in the past three months has been over 80 per cent. 'It is very important to detect the disease early and we appeal to men who have had unsafe sex with men to come for a test as soon as possible,' he said. Without treatment, about half of those infected with HIV would progress to Aids within 10 years. The foundation's Aids hotline is 25130513 and the Department of Health's Aids hotline is 27802711.