Figures released by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show there were 166 newly diagnosed cases of HIV among gay and bisexual men last year in Ireland – the highest diagnosis rate recorded to date.

Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) described the figures as “very worrying”.

Tiernan Brady, director of Gay HIV Strategies (GHS) with GLEN said: “A focus on raising awareness about HIV, sexual health education and targeted HIV prevention measures with this group of men is critical. This focus, coupled with efforts to promote testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among gay and bisexual men can lead to a reduction in HIV infection rates.”

The figures show that HIV diagnosis rates among gay and bisexual men have increased by 160% between 2005 and 2012 and now represent 48% of all new HIV diagnoses.

The figures also show that the age group most at risk of HIV is getting younger. The average age for diagnosis among men who have sex with men (MSM) is now 32.

“Implementation of sexual health education and HIV prevention strategies and campaigns targeting groups which are most at risk are critical in effectively responding to the ongoing high levels of HIV diagnosis among gay and bisexual men,” Mr Brady added.

“Such campaigns, working in conjunction with wider strategies addressing the need for testing and tackling the discrimination and stigma which is experienced by people living with HIV would represent an effective focussing and marshalling of the available resources.”

It was revealed last week there had been a 37% increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses among the MSM group in England during 2012.