HIV Epidemic Among Gay Men Continues

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An estimated 6,840 new HIV diagnoses were reported in 2007 in the United Kingdom, according to latest figures from the Health Protection Agency.

The figures show that over the past 12 months there has been no evidence of a fall in the current high rate of HIV transmission among gay men within the UK . Over a third of new diagnoses in 2007 were in this group (38% - 2,630). This is the third successive year that new diagnoses among gay men have risen above 2,600 - the highest levels since records began.

Dr Valerie Delpech , Head of HIV surveillance at the Health Protection Agency, said: "Gay men continue to be the group most at risk of acquiring HIV within the UK .

"We need to reinforce the safe sex message for gay men that the best way to protect yourself from contracting HIV is practising safer sex by using a condom with all new and casual partners."

"We must also shift the testing culture among gay men, encouraging more frequent testing particularly among individuals at greatest risk, such as those with a high number of sexual partners and men who attend GUM services."

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Increased testing is likely to have contributed in part to these recent high numbers of HIV diagnoses, but there is no suggestion that the overall level of underlying HIV transmission in gay men has fallen. Unprotected sex continues to be a very high risk activity for HIV in this group.

Professor Peter Borriello, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said: "The control of HIV transmission is a major public health challenge and testing for HIV, and for all sexually transmitted infections in the UK , needs to be increased still further. If you care, get tested.

"We recommend that gay men should test at least annually for HIV. Earlier diagnosis of HIV infection will give men access to treatment, improve their survival and reduce the risk of transmission to partners. I urge all gay men to test for HIV regularly."

The overall estimate for new diagnoses of HIV in 2007 is slightly less than that for 2006 (7,430), due mostly to the decline in cases diagnosed among those infected heterosexually in Africa (from 3250 to 2690).

In 2007, there were an estimated 690 new HIV diagnoses thought to be due to heterosexual HIV transmission within the UK , many in black ethnic minority communities. This is comparable with the 730 cases reported in 2006.

Dr Delpech said: "Numbers of heterosexual HIV infections within the UK have been steadily rising throughout the past decade so that for each of the past three years there have been around 700 new diagnoses - a clear indication that heterosexual HIV transmission is now firmly established within the UK."

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