• The Associated Press

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A record number of Japanese contracted HIV and developed AIDS last year, a government panel said as it urged citizens to take greater precautions to avoid infection.

In 2004, 748 Japanese became infected with HIV and 366 developed AIDS, according to a report released Wednesday from the committee that the health ministry appointed to monitor infection rates.

A year earlier, 640 people contracted HIV and 336 developed AIDS. Japan has a population of around 127 million.

The committee warned that actual infection rates could be higher because of low detection among heterosexuals and appealed to Japanese to protect themselves.

“We want the Japanese people to recognize the immediate possibility of contagion,” committee chief Hiroshi Yoshikawa said in a statement. “We ask that they actively undergo HIV tests and otherwise take steps to quickly detect and treat infection.”

He further asked local governments to educate residents about AIDS prevention and make AIDS tests more convenient to take.

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