A study published today suggests that rates of HIV in France are 200 times higher in gay and bisexual men than in heterosexuals.

The report from the French National Institute for Public Health Surveillance showed that although HIV infections are falling in the country, half of the 7,000 new cases diagnosed in 2008 were found in men who have sex with men (MSM).

Gay and bisexual men accounted for 48 per cent of new cases in France in 2008. Non-French nationals – mostly from sub-Saharan Africa – accounted for 23 per cent and 45 per cent of new diagnoses were transmitted heterosexually.

Published in the November edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, it said that HIV rates in France fell from 8,930 new infections in 2003 to 6,940 in 2008.

Stephane le Vu, who led the research, told Reuters: “Our results provide a new perspective on the HIV epidemic in France. HIV transmission disproportionately affects certain risk groups and seems to be out of control in the MSM population.”

The paper concluded: “Despite an overall decline in HIV incidence, the highest rates estimated for MSM and sub-Saharan Africans living in France warrant renewed prevention strategies.

“Incidence should be tracked to monitor transmission dynamics in the various population risk groups and to help target and assess prevention strategies.”

Commenting, Robert S Hogg from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada said that the rate of infections in gay and bisexual men was “unacceptably high” and recommended a combined prevention approach.

He wrote: “This approach should include targeted structural interventions directed at specific populations, behavioural interventions directed at individuals, and new biomedical interventions, including expanded coverage of anti-retroviral therapy to all HIV infected individuals who meet eligibility criteria for treatment.”