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Warnings as HIV infections among gay and bisexual men reach record high

Nick Duffy November 18, 2015

HIV charities have warned about an “alarming” upswing in HIV diagnoses, after new figures revealed there are now more than 100,000 HIV-positive people in the UK.

Public Health England released its annual UK-wide report on HIV transmission today ahead of HIV Testing Week, which is set to begin on Saturday.

The new figures show that an estimated 103,700 people in the UK are now living with HIV, taking the number above 100,000 for the first time.

In addition, transmissions among gay and bisexual men have reached a new record high – with 3,360 men who have sex with men diagnosed as HIV positive in 2014.

The report estimates that 17% of people living with HIV have not been diagnosed, and are highly at risk of passing it to others. An estimated 6,500 HIV-positive gay and bisexual men are unaware they have HIV, risking further rises if they are not diagnosed and treated.

In a blog for PinkNews, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said she is “determined to reverse” the surge in HIV infections among gay and bisexual men, and announced HIV home-testing kits will be nationally available for free for at-risk groups.

Cary James of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “The new figures show how important National HIV Testing Week is. If people with HIV go undiagnosed they are at risk of damaging their health and unknowingly passing on the virus.

“We need to take every opportunity to remind gay men to get tested at least once a year and more often if they are changing partners often or have been at risk.”

National HIV Testing Week Ambassador Dr Christian Jessen said: “I am proud to be the National HIV Testing Week Ambassador. Testing for HIV is crucial for prevention.

“The fact that diagnoses have increased is encouraging in one sense. If you get tested and receive a positive diagnosis, you can now immediately go onto treatment, and if you are on medication you are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus cannot be passed on.

“Most concerning to me is the fact that nearly one in six people with HIV do not realise they have it, so they are putting their own health at risk and HIV could unknowingly be passed on.”

Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, said: “Today’s announcement by Public Health England that 103,700 people are now living with HIV in the UK is yet more proof that HIV is a growing issue.

“Over 6,000 people were diagnosed last year, as well as 17% of people who have HIV but don’t know it yet. They may not find out until they have already shortened their lifespan and are left with life-long ill health.

“We need to scale up our HIV testing and prevention efforts, but instead the Government cut £200million off the budget this year used to pay for both.

“Next week the Government will announce their spending plans and we are expecting more cuts to public health. The direct result of this Government action will be more people getting HIV, more people getting diagnosed late and more people dying because of their HIV status.”

Referring to actor Charlie Sheen revealing he is HIV-positive and tabloid treatment of the story, Shaun Griffin of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “The recent media maelstrom around HIV could have been really damaging for the 18,100 who have HIV and don’t know it.

“Such a damning portrayal perpetuates stigma and could actually deter people from accessing testing, treatment, and support.

“As National HIV Testing Week approaches we urge everyone to get tested.

“If we are going to reduce the number of people who have HIV, we need the number of people diagnosed to further increase.

“HIV treatment is now immediately available when diagnosed and once treatment is taken correctly, patients are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus can no longer be passed on. Testing is key to prevention.”

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