However, they continue to represent less than 10% of all HIV infections diagnosed in heterosexuals in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And, contrary to popular belief, most of the increase is among people who are infected abroad, mainly in Africa. Homosexual men remain at greatest risk of acquiring HIV in the United Kingdom.
Using national HIV surveillance reports, scientists at the Health Protection Agency show that 21,115 adults diagnosed with HIV in England Wales, and Northern Ireland between 1985 and 2003 were infected through heterosexual intercourse. Of these, 1,901 (9%) were probably infected in the United Kingdom.
Sixty two per cent (1,179) had a sexual partner who was infected outside Europe, while nearly a third had a partner infected in Europe (including the United Kingdom). For 8% (153), the partner's country of infection was not established.
Figures may underestimate true numbers as voluntary surveillance systems are subject to under-reporting.
The authors conclude that, as the number of heterosexuals living with HIV (diagnosed and undiagnosed) in the United Kingdom grows, the likelihood of heterosexual transmission within the country will increase, particularly among ethnic minorities.