There was a 23% increase in the rate of HIV and AIDS infection rates in the North West between 2003 and 2005 according to university researchers.

Liverpool’s John Moores University has released a report that highlights the jump in gay infections from 300 men in 2003 to 359 in 2004 to 373 in 2005, and representing 44% of the total number of new cases in 2004.

The increase of just 4% from 2004 to 2005 was cause for some celebration, compared to the overall increase of 14%, as reported in today’s Liverpool Daily Post Echo.

Professor Mark A. Bellis, Director of the Centre for Public Health and co-author of the report, told PinkNews.co.uk: “While escalation in numbers of new HIV infections amongst gay men has not been as dramatic as in previous years we have still seen over 370 new HIV infections amongst gay and bisexual men during 2005.”

He added “although further dramatic increases appear to have been avoided, this still means that hundreds of individuals have needlessly been infected, when practising safe sex could have avoided such infections.”

The report highlights that the total rise in new cases since 2001 in the north west is 114%.

It also claims that one percent of Manchester’s male population in the 35 years old to 44 years old age range has a HIV or AIDS infection.

Professor Bellis comments: “While infections continue to be more common in gay men and some immigrant groups, HIV is now regularly identified in heterosexuals, both sexes and all types of communities.”

An example of this is the rise in the number of women infected, with a 20% rise in the infection rate.

The report also recognises that the rise this year in cases is largely due to new heterosexual infections, either from migrants such as workers or students or from UK citizens that were infected whilst in travelling on holiday or business.

Professor Qutub Syed, Director of Health Protection Agency North West, said: “HIV has almost become a forgotten disease, but these figures show that it is an ever present threat in our society. Anyone indulging in unprotected sex is taking an unacceptable risk with their health and possibly with their life.”

After last years figures Professor Syed said “People need to realise that HIV is not exclusive to gay men or to people who live in sub Saharan Africa.”

The avenue of advertising should also be considered, according to Professor Bellis, telling PinkNews.co.uk “regular condom adverts on television in this country are now long overdue.”

He said that despite the inevitable initial backlash ” such complaints should soon disappear and hopefully some good sexual health messages will replace alcohol and junk food promotions.”