The rate of new diagnoses of HIV in the UK continued to rise in 2005, early figures suggest.
Safe sex can prevent HIV transmission
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has recorded 5,560 new diagnoses for 2005 so far, but expects the figure eventually to exceed 7,750.
The HPA said the rise was mainly due to an increase in new diagnoses among men who have sex with men.
However, overall there were more new diagnoses among people who had heterosexual sex.
Of these, two-thirds are thought to have been infected by the virus while in Africa.
To the same point in 2004, the HPA recorded 5,016 new cases of HIV. The current figure for the year is 7,328.
Currently, 1,712 new diagnoses have been recorded among men who have sex with men, although the figure could rise to around 2,453. The current figure for 2004 is 2,214.
So far, men who have sex with men account for 31% of the HIV diagnoses recorded for 2005.
To the same point in 2004, they accounted for 28% of the total.
2005 NEW DIAGNOSES SO FAR
Sex between men and women - 2,878 (52%)
Sex between men - 1,712 (31%)
Injecting drug use - 112 (2%)
Other routes - 79 (1%)
Route of infection yet to be determined - 14%
Dr Valerie Delpech, of the HPA HIV department said: "Sex between men remains the group in the UK at highest risk of acquiring HIV with evidence that transmission is continuing at a substantial rate.
"The rise in the number of new diagnoses reported is likely to be due to more HIV testing among men who have sex with men and ongoing transmission of HIV."
In comparison, the total number of new HIV diagnoses among heterosexual men and women is expected to remain high but relatively stable - with most cases being acquired outside the UK.
It is predicted that new HIV diagnoses for heterosexual men and women will reach 4,392 diagnoses for 2005, compared to 4,347 diagnoses currently reported for 2004.
However, diagnoses of injected drug users (IDUs) are expected to increase to an estimated 182 diagnoses compared to 131 diagnoses currently reported for 2004.
Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "We are continuing our efforts to encourage more HIV testing by offering tests to all first-time attenders of GUM clinics, testing all pregnant women and piloting HIV testing in community-based settings.
"The rise in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is a serious problem that we are determined to tackle."
"That is why we have committed over £300 million to modernise sexual health services as well as making sexual health one of the seven key national priorities for the NHS next year."
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "We are delighted that the government has named sexual health as one of its seven key health priorities.
"Now we are urging Primary Care Trusts to follow its lead, giving frontline sexual health services the attention, funding and resources they so desperately need."
Professor Pete Borriello, director of the HPA's Centre for Infections said: "The earlier people are diagnosed the more effectively their health can be monitored and antiretroviral treatment can be started.
"It is vital that anyone who thinks they have put themselves at risk of contracting HIV should contact their GP or a sexual health clinic at the earliest opportunity."
Overall, there are over 58,000 people living with HIV in the UK, and an estimated 19,700 who remain unaware of their infection, and therefore undiagnosed.
In total, 76,850 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK since 1982.
To date, 21,898 people have been diagnosed with AIDS, of whom 13,346 (61%) have died.