The United Kingdom has one of the worst attitudes towards HIV in Europe, according to a survey by the European Union.

The Eurobarometer survey for the European Commission asked 25,000 people across the continent how much they had changed their sexual behaviour in response to AIDS since 2002.

Researchers found a significant decrease in Italy, Spain, and in the United Kingdom, as well as in a lack of awareness amongst new member states.

Only 40% of respondents know it is not possible to be infected by HIV when you kiss on the mouth someone who has AIDS or is HIV positive. French (69%), Danish (59%) and Dutch (58%) respondents were those with the largest percentages of correct answers.

According to the survey, over half of the Britons polled did not use protection to avoid HIV and 22% believed AIDS could be caught by kissing, while just over half still thought you could catch the virus by sharing a glass.

A significant number of citizens of new member states who joined in 2004 had some worrying attitudes, Lithuanians (44%), Cypriots (38%) and Slovakians (47%) all thought it is possible to catch HIV through a kiss on the lips.

A majority of interviewees were aware it is not possible to contract HIV or AIDS when drinking from a glass which has been used by someone who has AIDS or is HIV positive, nor when sitting on a toilet seat used by an infected person.

“Giving blood” and “taking care of someone who has AIDS or is HIV positive” are recognised as not representing possible forms of infection. However, the rate of correct answers remained quite low (on average 55%).

A majority of Europeans know that it is impossible to contract AIDS or HIV neither when you eat a meal prepared by some who has AIDS or is HIV positive nor handling objects touched by someone ill.

Moreover, most Europeans citizens are aware that shaking hands with someone who has AIDS or is HIV positive can not infect them. For instance, 96% of Dutch, 93% of French responded correctly. 71% of Italians, 63% of Lithuanians and 62% of Slovakians gave the right answer.

Paul Ward, deputy chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust said more education is needed, “Many people are still ignorant about HIV, even though the epidemic is growing faster than ever.

“We know from our own research that young people particularly are misinformed about the most basic facts of HIV. More needs to be done both locally and nationally to educate people about the very real risk that HIV poses to our nation’s health.”