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AIDS Spreading Faster In Southern Europe Than In Northern Europe

June 23, 1987

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ The AIDS virus is spreading more rapidly in southern Europe than in northern Europe, while in the United States, 50 new cases of the deadly disease are diagnosed each day, health officials said Monday.

In the United States, the number of AIDS cases has grown ″astronomically″ since 1981, a U.S. official told a workshop at the U.N. conference on drug abuse and trafficking.

Charles Schuster, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, said there are an estimated 39,000 cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in the United States, with 50 new cases diagnosed each day.

Both Schuster and Cees Goos of the World Health Organization said the practice of sharing needles among intravenous drug abusers is contributing to the spread of AIDS.

Health experts have said the highest risk groups for contacting AIDS are promiscuous homosexuals and drug addicts who share the same hypodermic syringe, but the Vienna meeting is dealing primarily with drug abuse and its relation to AIDS. The 10 day conference is to end Friday.

Schuster told a workshop that 25 percent of all AIDS patients in the United States are intravenous drug abusers.

According to Goos, the percentage of AIDS cases involving intravenous drug users in Europe is not as high. He said that as of last fall, about 14 percent of the AIDS sufferers in Europe were intravenous drug users.

AIDS is an affliction in which the body’s immune system becomes unable to resist disease. There is no cure. It is most often transmitted through sexual contact, but is also spread by transfusions of tainted blood products and the sharing of contaminated needles by drug abusers. AIDS can be passed from mother to child before birth.

A blood test can determine if a person has developed AIDS antibodies, meaning they have been exposed to the virus and could be carriers, but not all of those exposed develop AIDS.

Goos, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the AIDS virus is spreading more rapidly in southern European countries such as Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia and southern France than in northern European nations.

In Italy ″it is part of the drug culture to share needles,″ he said, but he had no other theory for the geographical difference in the spread of the disease in Europe.

Sterile needles are distributed in the Netherlands to drug abusers, and similar programs are being considered in Britain and Denmark.

The 135-nation U.N. conference is cheduled to discuss the distribution of needles to addicts as part of its work on guidelines for fighting drug abuse.

The U.S. government does not support the practice of distributing sterile needles. Schuster said advocating such a practices could be considered tantamount to the federal government condoning drug abuse.

He said about 85 percent of those AIDS patients who are intravenous drug abusers report sharing needles with others on an intermittent basis.

″Our biggest concern″ is that an estimated 75 percent of all heroin abusers who use needles have sexual relations with people who do not use intravenous drugs, he added.

Schuster said his institute focuses its efforts on reducing intravenous drug use by trying to improve prevention and treatment. He said a methadone maintenance program can be effective against heroin abuse.

Methadone, a synthtic narcotic drug, is less rapidly habit-forming and is taken orally, rather than with a needle.

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