Record Numbers Living With HIV In UK

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An estimated 77,400 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2007 with more than a quarter (28 per cent) unaware of their infection, according to figures released today by the Health Protection Agency.

An estimated 77,400 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2007 with more than a quarter (28 per cent) unaware of their infection, according to figures released today by the Health Protection Agency.

This compares to the estimated 73,000 previously reported to be living with the infection (2006).

In 2007 there were 7,734 new diagnoses of HIV – a similarly high figure to previous years (7,334 in 2006).

* The estimated number of people infected through heterosexual contact within the UK has increased from 540 new diagnoses in 2003 to 960 in 2007, and has doubled, from 11% (540/4,800) in 2003 to 23% (960/4,260) in 2007, as a proportion of all heterosexual diagnoses during this period.

* Diagnoses among gay men continue to increase with 3,160 men (41 per cent of all new diagnoses) testing positive in 2007.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of individuals are being diagnosed with HIV late - at a point after which therapy should have begun (CD4 cell count less than 200 per mm3) - which means that they are missing out on the benefits associated with early diagnosis including prolonged life expectancy.

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Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV surveillance at the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said:

"Diagnosing HIV infections earlier will reduce transmission of this infection as those unaware of their positive status pose a greater risk to future sexual partners.

"Late diagnosis also has a major impact on disease and life expectancy and it is vital that people are diagnosed early.

"It is very worrying that so many people remain unaware of their HIV status. Wider HIV testing in high prevalence areas of the UK is urgently needed to reduce the number of undiagnosed infections."

New national testing guidelines recommend wider HIV testing in those areas of the country where the prevalence of HIV infection is greatest and state that health professionals should offer HIV testing to all men and women aged 15 to 59 who are:

* registering in general practice or
* admitted for medical care

These areas include London, parts of the South coast (inc. Brighton, Bournemouth, and Eastbourne), Manchester and Blackpool - where prevalence has historically been high. Also included are areas that have experienced more recent increases including areas surrounding London such as Luton, Watford, Slough and Crawley, and Northampton, Nottingham and the Midlands.

Dr Delpech said: "Access to testing must be made easier. We need to improve availability of HIV testing in a number of healthcare settings, including general practice, to improve diagnosis of this infection. Without this we will not see the reduction in transmission that we need to see, or a further fall in serious disease."

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