According to new research published today, reckless sexual behaviour among a subset of young gay men is fuelling the HIV epidemic in Europe and the UK.

According to open access journal BioMed Central (BMC) Infectious Diseases, a considerable number of new HIV infections in Belgium, where the study was conducted, were occurring as a result of high-risk sexual contact between young, white gay men.

Despite the heightened awareness over HIV in the Western world, the number of infections continues to rise yearly according to BMC.

In an attempt to make sense of the situation, researchers at Ghent University in Belgium compared the genetic info of viruses isolated from more than 500 patients – male and female, gay and straight, Caucasian and non-Caucasian – who were newly diagnosed with the HIV virus between 2001 and 2009.

Those infected, they said, were almost all white, male, gay and young. These men, they said, also tended to have other sexual diseases, such as syphilis, suggesting unsafe sexual behaviour and disregard for condoms.

In the UK, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) monitors HIV numbers and warns every year of the rising rate of infections among men who have sex with men (MSM). In its 2009 report, it said that the rate of infection among gay men was still high, despite a slight overall drop.

Terrence Higgins Trust’s Chief Executive, Sir Nick Partridge, said:

“Gay men are still the most at risk of HIV infection in the UK. We also know that more than a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are currently undiagnosed, and they’re far more likely to pass the virus on than those who know they have it.

“Targeted HIV prevention programmes are key to reducing the numbers of new infections each year. But we’d also argue for innovative testing services to better diagnose men who’ve been at most risk.”