The number of new HIV diagnoses has nearly doubled over the past ten years, according to new figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Experts warn that numbers are increasing “especially in men who have sex with men” (MSM).
In total 1,950 new UK-acquired HIV infections were diagnosed in 2001 and 3,780 in 2010. The number of new diagnoses among MSM increased by 70 per cent from 1,810 to 3,080.
There are approximately 30,800 MSM living with HIV in the UK and of these it is estimated that nearly 9,000 are unaware that they are infected.
Medical experts say that anal intercourse is, by its nature, one of the most risky forms of sexual activity.
Sexual health specialists Dr John Dean and Dr David Delvin have warned that the practice carries a greater risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections than almost any other type of sexual activity.
And the UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services will not accept blood donations from men who have had sex with men, regardless of whether they used a condom. This policy is based on an impartial assessment of the available evidence and is designed to ensure a safe blood supply.
Commenting on the new HIV figures Dr Paul Cosford, executive director of Health Protection Services at the HPA, said: “Unfortunately despite small decreases in cases in the last few years new diagnoses of HIV infections acquired within the UK are on the upward turn, especially in men who have sex with men.
“This is the result of both new cases coming forward to be diagnosed as well as high levels of on-going transmission, especially among men.”
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has launched new guidance for doctors in England which recommends more HIV testing to curb the spread of the infection among MSM.
Ben Tunstall, Head of Health Improvement at the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, said: “We welcome the introduction of these new guidelines, the first of their kind, as a vital step forward in encouraging gay men to test and engaging health care professionals in the need to offer increased, more easily accessible testing.
“We urge anyone having sex with different partners to make regular HIV testing a priority.”
The HPA’s figures also revealed that black Africans are at high risk of infection, and NICE has released separate guidance in response to this.
Last September a study showed that rates of HIV in France were 200 times higher in homosexual men than among heterosexuals.
Scientists from the French National Institute for Public Health Surveillance found that nearly half of the 7,000 people newly infected with HIV in the country in 2008 were gay men.
Stephane le Vu, who led the research, said HIV transmission “seems to be out of control” among MSM.
Also in September a separate survey revealed that MSM were fuelling HIV infections in Europe.
Belgian researchers examined 500 patients who had recently been diagnosed with HIV, and discovered that most of the infections were among young white MSM.
The research, conducted by scientists from Ghent University, also revealed that these men were more likely to have contracted other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis.
The Belgian report’s findings received the backing of the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Trust, said at the time: “Gay men are still the most at risk of HIV infection in the UK.
“We also know that more than a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are currently undiagnosed, and they’re far more likely to pass the virus on than those who know they have it.”