A drop in condom use in gay and bisexual men has been blamed for an HIV infection hike, according to a new study.
Published in journal PLOS ONE and carried out by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and University College London (UCL), the study showed a 26% increase in unprotected sex in men who have sex with men (MSM).
“It's vital that condom use education continues, as not only does this have a strong limiting effect on the HIV epidemic, but only a modest increase in unprotected sex is enough to erode the benefits of other interventions,” said the HPA head of HIV surveillance, Dr Valerie Delpech.
Test at 'every opportunity'
Researchers found that if more HIV tests had been carried out, there would have been 25% less infections over the 20 year period.
“Clinicians need to take every opportunity to recommend HIV testing to this group,” said Dr Delpech.
She added: “Through combining earlier and more frequent HIV testing, programmes that reduce unsafe sexual behaviour and higher levels of ART coverage for those requiring it, we could substantially reduce HIV transmission in this group.”
The findings suggest new infections would have been 400% higher if condom use had stopped in 2000.
The increase in new infections would have been 68% higher if antiretrovirals (ART) had not been introduced in 1990, the researchers have said.
Estimated HIV incidence rose from 30% between 1990 and 1997, to 53% between 2006 and 2010.
Professor Andrew Phillips, lead investigator at UCL said: “We explored the interplay between HIV testing rates, ART and sexual behaviour on HIV transmission and incidence.”
He said: “By better understanding the driving forces between the trends we've seen in the past, it will allow us to make informed choices to reduce HIV infections in the future.”
Effective ART therapy lowers the chance of HIV being passed on.
The increase in new infections would have been 68% greater without ART therapy, the study suggests.
If ART had been prescribed for MSM at diagnosis there would be a 32% drop HIV infections, and if higher testing was combined with early prescriptions it would drop by 62%, the researchers have claimed.
Dr Delpech said: “Our research provides important evidence to support current UK public health recommendations on expanded HIV testing and higher levels of ART coverage to reduce new infections.”