With an average gap of three years between someone being infected with HIV and being diagnosed, the Terrence Higgins Trust is launching a new campaign which urges gay and bisexual men to “Update Their Status” with regular checks.

The leading HIV and sexual health charity is launching the Update Your Status campaign to remind gay and bisexual men in London that – if they have had unprotected anal sex with a new or casual partner– they should not delay getting tested for HIV.

The Trust cautions that within the gay community, up to half of new infections come from men who have themselves been recently infected and don’t know it.

Up to the first six months after infection, the level of virus within semen and blood is extremely high, increasing the chance that HIV will be passed on through unprotected sex. Therefore, increasing the numbers of men who test for HIV soon after they have taken a risk could lead to a significant reduction in new infection rates.

The Update Your Status campaign has been funded by the Pan-London HIV Prevention Programme. It will provide information via adverts in the gay media and posters in gay venues, directing men who are concerned that they have put themselves at risk of HIV to a special section of the Terrence Higgins Trust website.

From there, men can request delivery of a free and confidential HIV home sampling kit, or search for their nearest testing service, as part of a pilot project launched in January.

Once the sampling kit is delivered, the user is asked to provide a finger-prick of blood, which they then send to the lab for testing. Users should receive their result within a week of them returning the sample, either by text message (if the result is negative) or with a telephone call to provide support and refer them to specialist HIV services (if the result is reactive).

Cary James, Head of Health Improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “During the last decade, testing initiatives have reduced the average time-to-diagnosis for a gay man with HIV to a little over three years. If we can drive this figure even lower, this will reduce infection levels and have a significant impact on the spread of the epidemic. With more opportunities to test than ever before, there’s really no excuse for not knowing your HIV status.

“Current guidelines suggest gay and bi men should be testing for HIV at least once a year, but our advice to anyone who thinks they have put themselves at risk is to get tested asap rather than waiting for your annual appointment. If you do have undiagnosed HIV, putting it off doesn’t just compromise your own health but that of anyone else you have unprotected sex with.”