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Hong Kong is urging residents who have had unsafe sex to undergo HIV tests after two large clusters of new infections were discovered, pointing to an unparalleled fast spread of the virus in the city.
"This is a fast spread in a place with low HIV prevalence. We have never seen this before," Wong Ka-hing, a consultant for the Health Department's Special Preventive Program, said in an interview on Thursday.
The two clusters involve 46 men, but authorities have not ruled out the chance of more people, including women, being infected. The men were diagnosed with HIV between November 2003 and September 2006. Their virus samples were so genetically similar that local scientists believe they probably passed the virus to one another.
There have been local transmissions of the virus in the past in Hong Kong, but they were far smaller in scale and mostly involved spouses or regular sex partners.
Wong said the two large clusters pointed to a rising trend of unsafe sex. "This is surely due to unsafe, unprotected sex," he said. "Whether there is a super spreader involved, we are not sure; there is nothing yet to indicate this. It is more likely to have been a case of one person spreading the virus to another. The weak link is unsafe sexual behavior. If there is protected sex, the risk is very low, and we wouldn't have such a situation."
Wong urged people who have had unprotected sex to undergo free HIV testing so that necessary precautions can be taken to contain the spread of the disease.
The prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Hong Kong is low. There are now 3,100 people living with HIV in the Chinese territory of nearly 7 million. (Reuters)