Gay and bisexual HIV infections rise 70% in ten years

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New figures show that HIV infections in gay and bisexual men have risen by 70 per cent in the last decade.

In 2001, 1,810 men who have sex with men were diagnosed with the disease. Last year, this had risen to 3,080 in 2010.

Total HIV diagnoses have almost double in the last decade from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,780 in 2010, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures show.

Experts estimate that there are 30,000 gay and bisexual men living with HIV in the UK today – although a third of these are thought to be undiagnosed.

Along with gay and bisexual men, black African people living in the UK remain a high-risk group, which one-third of diagnoses in 2009 coming from this group.

Health experts are to tell the government that all adult men in high-prevalence areas should be offered and recommended HIV testing to increase early diagnoses and remove the stigma around HIV.

Recommendations from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) say that hospitals and doctors’ surgeries in areas with more than two diagnoses per 1,000 people should recommend and offer HIV testing to men and more rapid point-of-care tests should be offered to men in high-risk environments, such as gay saunas and clubs.

Dr Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at the HPA said: “HIV is an extremely serious infection. There are excellent treatment options available nowadays but these are only at their most effective if the infection is diagnosed early, before symptoms appear. This is a challenge as most individuals will not be aware of their infection until they get tested for HIV. Testing for the infection must be increased in order to catch the infection as early as possible.

“The impact of late diagnosis is clearly demonstrated when you look at deaths among people with HIV – three out of five of HIV positive individuals that die are diagnosed too late to gain the most health benefits from their treatment, like increased life expectancy.”

The new recommendations were welcomed by National AIDS Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust, who said gay and bisexual men needed more encouragement to get tested.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of National AIDS Trust, said: “A key message for sexually active gay men is to have an HIV test at least once a year, and more frequently if you have put yourself at particular risk, have an STI or change partners. If we all acted on this we would see real progress.’

Ben Tunstall, Terrence Higgins Trust’s head of health improvement, said: “We welcome the introduction of these new guidelines, the first of their kind, as a vital step forward in encouraging gay men to test and engaging health care professionals in the need to offer increased, more easily accessible testing.

“We urge anyone having sex with different partners to make regular HIV testing a priority. These guidelines need to be put into practice to combat onward transmission of HIV and reduce the unacceptably high levels of undiagnosed HIV that we’re still seeing in the UK.”