Nearly half of people in the UK still don’t understand how HIV is contracted, according to the National AIDS Trust.

A survey of 12,000 people conducted on last month’s World AIDS Day found that 46% wrongly think you can get HIV from being bitten, spat at or coming into contact with a discarded needle.

The data revealed only four out of 10 people knew that 95% of HIV infections in the UK are due to unprotected sex.

Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust (NAT), Deborah Jack said: “We often read stories in the media about people having to take HIV tests after being spat at, bit or stepping on a needle in a park, however the risk from these activities in either non-existent or incredibly low.

“Misinformation about how you can contract HIV leads to anxiety and feeds stigma and discrimination towards people living with the disease. This stigma can be incredibly damaging. It is also an immense distraction from the overwhelming risk factor for HIV in the UK – unsafe sex.”

The survey also discovered the public think HIV was a bigger problem in the 80s and 90s than in the present day.

Ms Jack added: “It is a common misconception that HIV is a problem of the past. In fact the number of people living with HIV in the UK hit 96,000 in 2011, with 6,280 new diagnoses that year. As a matter of urgency the government needs to put resources behind educating people that HIV hasn’t gone away, it is more prevalent than ever and safer sex is vital to reduce HIV transmission.”

In December, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported that a record number of gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in 2011.