The National AIDs Trust (NAT) has moved to calm reports of an outbreak of HIV in St Ives, Cornwall.
Around 10 cases have been confirmed in the seaside town, and one man was rumoured to have been responsible, a claim quashed by the NAT.
The West of Cornwall Primary Care Trust issued a statement last week calling for people to be tested and set up a help line after a number of cases emerged in the area.
David Miles, director of public health, said: “Our investigations so far suggest that people will have been at risk for at least the last eight years, and possibly longer.
“It also seems that those at risk are in a wide range of age groups, from young adults through to men and women in their 50s, who have had unprotected sex. People may have contracted HIV and not yet be experiencing symptoms.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust called the statement irresponsible, she said: “The over-reaction of the primary care trust (PCT) in this case has fuelled HIV stigma in St Ives, encouraging rumour, unfounded speculation, blame and attempts to identify particular individuals as HIV positive.
“This undermines proven strategies for preventing the spread of HIV, which focus on voluntary contact tracing of sexual partners and total confidentiality. Voluntary ‘contact tracing’ is a well-established process with those diagnosed with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, aiming to identify past sexual partners who may have been exposed to the risk of infection.
“This response has put at risk the confidentiality of one or more individuals living with HIV in their area and the resulting discriminatory climate will in the long-term only discourage others from coming forward for testing.”