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More HIV testing needed as infection levels plateau

"Unsafe sexual behaviour" has been blamed for a “plateau” of HIV levels in gay and bisexual men, despite improvements in testing and treatment.

Even with a 10% increase in the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) receiving HIV treatment and a reduction in diagnosis time, the number of new infections has remained the same for just over six years. 

The research, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, found new infections have reached a plateau of 2,300-2,500 annually since 2006, in England and Wales.  

Dr Valerie Delpech said she is “seriously concerned” about the level of ongoing HIV transmission.  

“We are concerned about the significant impact this is having within the MSM community,” the Health Protection Agency (HPA) head of HIV surveillance said. 

Dr Delpech added: “The only plausible explanation for these results is continuing unsafe sexual behaviour coupled with insufficient HIV testing.”  

The study, carried out by the HPA and Medical Research Council (MRC) found that 38% of patients were diagnosed after they should have started antiretroviral treatment (ARV).  

Dr Daniela De Angelis, lead researcher at the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge said: “We were able to provide a comprehensive picture of the HIV epidemic in England and Wales over the past 10 years.”

Nearly one in 12 MSM in London and one in 20 in the UK now have HIV, and the HPA has urged doctors and nurses to “take every opportunity” to offer tests. 

Dr Delpech said: “By coupling earlier and more frequent testing with programmes that reduce unsafe sexual behaviour, while maintaining high levels of treatment we could substantially reduce HIV transmission.”