UK: HIV infection rate for gay men at record high

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New figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) that have been released today in National HIV Testing Week and before Saturday’s annual World AIDS Day show that a record number of gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV last year.

It has surpassed the number of diagnoses for heterosexuals for the first time since 1999 and is the highest annual figure since records began.

According to the HPA, 3,010 gay and bisexual tested positive for the virus in 2011, and over a fifth of gay men were simultaneously diagnosed with an acute STI such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

For gay men, nearly a quarter of HIV infections were acquired recently within the past six months and the National AIDS Trust said it showed a “worryingly” high proportion of new infections are still taking place.

The charity believes the high STI rate in gay men is contributing to the continuing high rate of HIV transmission, NAT’s Chief Executive Deborah Jack said: “Last year saw the highest ever number of HIV diagnoses amongst gay men.

“A key lesson from the HPA report is that if you don’t take STIs seriously you’re not taking HIV seriously. Most STIs may be treatable and curable but they are not just some ‘occupational hazard’ of gay life – they are inextricably connected to the spread of HIV”.

Responding to the figures, Paul Ward, deputy chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “It may sound strange, but – to drive HIV infections down – we need first to see new diagnoses come up.

“Currently it’s estimated that there are 25,000 people with undiagnosed HIV in this country, a large proportion of them gay men. It is these undiagnosed infections that are driving the UK’s epidemic, as someone who is tested and on treatment is far less likely to pass the virus on than someone who is unaware of their status.”

Earlier in the week, GMFA and the NHS announced it had launched a trial lasting until March 2013 that will allow gay and bisexual men in London to have an HIV test without leaving the home.