Prague - Czech doctors are sounding an alarm: the number of new HIV cases registered in the country this year is higher then ever.
Just in the first 10 months of the year, 128 new cases were registered. This is the highest number since the state began to monitor the HIV statistics 25 years ago.
So far, the total of 1,170 cases of HIV were registered in the Czech Republic with AIDS developing in quarter of the cases. The disease has claimed 140 victims in the Czech Republic, seven of them died this year.
If significant parts of the population are pauperized by the current financial crisis, there will be more persons infected with HIV, as the virus tends to spread well in population struck by poverty, explained Jaroslav Jedlička from National Institute of Public Health.
However, the crisis can also have the opposite effect: if it prevents foreigners from Vietnam, Ukraine and Poland from moving to the Czech Republic, the spread of HIV could stop, said Marek Malý from the same institution.
There is no consensus among experts about how the HIV statistics will look like in a few years' time. "Many conditions have to be taken into account and every estimate would be very hypothetical," Malý said.
One fourth of the new cases is constituted by foreigners permanently residing in the Czech Republic.
"Another third admitted they had a close contact with a foreign citizen," Malý said.
In addition, 25 foreigners infected with HIV came to the country only for a short period of time, mostly to the capital city.
Almost all of those inhabitants of the Czech Republic infected with HIV contracted the virus through unprotected sexual intercourse. Roughly half of them are suffering from another sexually-transmitted disease, mostly lues.
"This only goes to show that people should really protect themselves when having sex," said Miroslav Hlavatý from Czech AIDS Help Society, adding that in comparison with the rest of the world, Czechs tend to use condoms less even when having sex with a stranger.
In about 5 percent of cases, the infection was caused by intravenous drug-use.
Hlavatý also sees a warning sign in the fact that among the newly registered cases there were many who were infected many years ago.
"This means that there can be a large number of infected people who are passing the virus on, without being aware of it," Hlavatý said, adding that the real number of infected might be as much as ten times higher.
Yet another problem might be that in many parts of the Czech Republic, free HIV tests are not easily available.