Seven new AIDS cases were reported in Utah during the first week of January, reinforcing health officials' concern that the numbers will continue to soar.

Utah, finishing 1988 with 167 cases since reporting began, now has had a total of 174 reported."The increase during December and early January has in part been due to late reports being submitted by physicians and hospitals," state epidemiologist Craig Nichols said Saturday. "In some cases they were misinformed of reporting requirements or were late in reporting the cases."

Nichols said the new cases do not represent a dramatic increase in the disease.

"It is an updating of cases that have already occurred but have not been logged with the state health department," he said.

Nevertheless, the specialist believes Utah will continue to have more cases each year - at least into the 1990s because the new AIDS cases represent infections that occurred many years ago.

A person diagnosed as having the AIDS virus has an average of five to seven years before developing AIDS-related symptoms and a couple of years after that before being diagnosed as having AIDS.

Once diagnosed as having AIDS, victims rarely live beyond a year. Of Utah's 174 AIDS victims, 111 have died.

Meanwhile, more Utahns are becoming infected, and science holds little hope for finding a cure for AIDS soon.

"It's a viral infection, like herpes and chicken pox, for which no cure has ever been found," said Sheila Sparks, acting coordinator for the Weber-Morgan Health District's AIDS program. "We'll never see a cure, at least not in my lifetime."

Sparks, 27, is not alone in her opinion. Others, including U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop, agree.

"There is no cure on the horizon," Koop said, during a visit to Utah last year.

Officials agree the only answers are education and prevention.

The deadly virus is primarily spread through sexual intercourse and contaminated blood.

Intravenous drug users are not as concerned as others, and this is "the most difficult group to reach with education," Sparks said.

She also expressed concern about teenagers who believe they are immortal.

"They know more about the disease than any group but don't see it touching their lives," she said.

Nichols expressed hope that the state's extensive efforts, both by health departments and through the schools, are making a difference.

"We hope our educational efforts are successful, but we won't be able to measure their success for many years," the health official said. "Even though we are optimistic that prevention and education will be successful, realistically we know that we are not going to stop all the transmission of the virus."