New Zealand has seen an alarming number of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV last year.

According to the AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago, 90 of the 149 new infections diagnosed last year were found in men who have sex with men.

HIV campaigners said that rates of the disease in gay and bisexual men were the worst they had ever been, surpassing even the 1980s.

The last highest rate was in 2008, when 93 gay or bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV.

Of this year’s total 149 infections, the source of 23 has not been confirmed but more than half are thought to have been transmitted through gay sex, which would make 2010 the worst year on record for gay/bisexual infection rates.

New Zealand Aids Foundation director Shaun Robinson said he had grave concerns for the safety of gay and bisexual men.

He said: “This epidemic has never been worse in New Zealand for gay and bisexual men.

“In addition to the 90 gay and bisexual men that we know about, there are another 15 men for whom the method of HIV transmission is unknown. It’s highly likely that most of them will be gay or bisexual men, which means that this will be the worst year on record.

“Not even in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s were rates of infection for gay and bisexual men this bad in New Zealand.”

He called for more HIV testing to catch the disease early.

“These men may have had HIV and been sexually active for a long time before they were diagnosed which means they missed out on treatment and were also likely to be more infectious.

“This situation could have been avoided by regular HIV testing.”

An estimated 1,800 people – most of them gay or bisexual men – are thought to be living with HIV in New Zealand.