HIV infections among gay men in England at highest ever level

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New figures released today by Public Health England show HIV infections among gay and bisexual men at a record high.

3,250 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in 2012, the highest annual figure since the start of the epidemic.

Between 2011 and 2012 a small decline in the proportion of people living with HIV unaware was seen. The number of men who have sex with men (MSM) who remain undiagnosed with the virus has fallen to 18%.

Professor Noel Gill, head of Public Health England’s HIV and STI department, said: “In the UK, people who are  unaware of their infection are likely to be those most at risk of transmitting HIV to others. We must increase the speed at which we’re reducing the number of undiagnosed HIV infections by encouraging earlier and more frequent HIV testing, especially by those most at-risk. Earlier diagnosis will help reduce new HIV infections across the UK.

“Around half of men who have sex with men recently diagnosed with HIV received their diagnosis the first time they tested, which is a strong indication that many men who should be testing are not. National HIV Testing Week gives people a great opportunity to get tested.”

National guidelines recommend that HIV testing should be offered routinely to everyone admitted to hospital and people registering with a GP surgery in areas of the country with HIV prevalence greater than 2 per 1000 people. Introducing additional ways to get tested, such as home-sampling services, is also encouraging more people to test.

In September, the deputy executive director of the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS agency said the worldwide HIV epidemic could potentially be over by 2030 – but only if infection rates among most at risk populations, such as men who have sex with men (MSM), fall substantially.

Last week, film producer and director David Furnish said in the London Evening Standard that high rates of HIV among gay men living in London was not something that could be ignored.

He wrote: “At the end of this month it is National HIV Testing Week. We need a big national push to get ourselves and our friends tested —without stigma, without shame and without stalling.”

Earlier this month, a senior London councillor, representing boroughs across the capital, described rising HIV infection rates in London as “alarming”.

London boroughs account for 18 out of 20 local authorities with the highest diagnosed prevalence rate of HIV in the country. New diagnoses of HIV rose by 8% in London from 2,615 in 2011 to 2,832 in 2012, reversing a downward trend since 2003.