Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Gay men concern over HIV figures

Men holding hands
HIV rates are still high among the gay community

Gay men are being warned about their HIV risk after latest figures show high rates of new diagnoses.

The Health Protection Agency estimates revealed nearly four in 10 of the 7,370 cases last year were in gay men - twice the number of a decade ago.

Recent studies have suggested high numbers of gay men are engaging in unsafe sex.

However, the number of new diagnoses overall and within the gay community has fallen slightly year-on-year.

Dr Barry Evans, an HIV expert at the HPA, said: "Gay men continue to be the group in the UK most at risk of acquiring HIV.

But most importantly, we must remember that gay and bisexual men are still the people most affected by HIV here in the UK
Deborah Jack, of the National Aids Trust

"Safe sex is the best way to protect against HIV infection."

The figures, which are estimated because the agency has not got all the data from clinics, showed overall new diagnoses had fallen from 7,660 in 2007.

Among gay men there was a slightly larger fall proportionally from 3,050 to 2,830, but it was still the second largest number since recording began in the 1990s.

The HPA also expressed concern about the high number of late diagnoses.

A fifth of cases among gay men were beyond the point at which treatment should have begun, raising the risk of death within the first year.

Proportion

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust said: 'We welcome the fall in the number of new diagnoses of HIV - but we need to wait to see whether the trend is really downwards or still plateauing.

"But most importantly, we must remember that gay and bisexual men are still the people most affected by HIV here in the UK - with one 1 in 20 gay and bisexual men infected with HIV.

"If that proportion of the general UK population had HIV it would be headline news."

She also said it was worrying that the number of heterosexual cases from sex in the UK - most of the heterosexual diagnoses are from sex abroad, mostly within African communities - showed signs of rising.

In 2008 there were just over 1,000 new cases - up by 110 from 2007.

However, the charity said it was still a tiny proportion of the people engaging in heterosexual sex.

Lisa Power, of the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "Numbers of people diagnosed with HIV are rising for many reasons.

"More people are getting tested, which is good. But some people don't realise they could be at risk, and others take risks despite knowing them. HIV is not a risk worth taking."



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