Ahead of England’s fourth annual National HIV Testing Week (NHTW: November 21), which includes outdoor and tram advertising across Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Brighton, Newcastle, Sheffield and Bristol, new figures released by Public Health England (PHE) reveal there are 18,100 people living with HIV in the UK who do not know they are HIV positive, compared to 18,219 last year – a drop of a mere 100.

6,151 people were newly diagnosed in the UK in 2014. This figure was 6,032 in 2013 and 6,353 in 2010 (7,893 in 2005), 75% of new diagnoses were in men, 25 per cent in women.

Today’s figures show the national rates of undiagnosed HIV as:

  • MSM 14 per cent of MSM living with HIV are undiagnosed
  • Black African heterosexuals 16% in men and 12% in women
  • All Heterosexuals 21% unaware of their diagnosis (1 in 5 PLHIV unaware of their status)

Shaun Griffin, Executive Director of External Affairs, Terrence Higgins Trust said:
“The recent media maelstrom around HIV could have been really damaging for the 18,100 who have HIV and don’t know it. Such a damning portrayal perpetuates stigma and could actually deter people from accessing testing, treatment, and support.

“As National HIV Testing Week approaches we urge everyone to get tested. If we are going to reduce the number of people who have HIV, we need the number of people diagnosed to further increase.  HIV treatment is now immediately available when diagnosed and once treatment is taken correctly, patients are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus can no longer be passed on. Testing is key to prevention.”

National HIV Testing Week Ambassador Dr Christian Jessen said:
“I am proud to be the National HIV Testing Week Ambassador. Testing for HIV is crucial for prevention.

“The fact that diagnoses have increased is encouraging in one sense. If you get tested and receive a positive diagnosis, you can now immediately go onto treatment, and if you are on medication you are classed as ‘undetectable’ and the virus cannot be passed on.

“Most concerning to me is the fact that nearly one  in six people with HIV do not realise they have it, so they are putting their own health at risk and HIV could unknowingly be passed on.”

Undiagnosed infection is widely recognised as a key factor driving the UK’s HIV epidemic. Heterosexual sex continues to be the main transmission route for people of black African and black Caribbean ethnicity – according to Public Health England 42 per cent of all new HIV diagnoses acquired heterosexually were among people of black African ethnicity.

The number of new people who are being diagnosed late is still unacceptably high:

  • 40 per cent of people newly diagnosed in 2014 were diagnosed late (CD4 count below 350) – this equates to 1,975 people. This was 50 per cent  in 2010 and 41 per cent in 2013.
  • This is 65 per cent in people who inject drugs, 61 per cent  in heterosexual men, and 58 per cent in black African people

HIV treatment lowers the amount of HIV in the body to undetectable levels. Global research, known as the PARTNER study, has found that HIV cannot be passed on when the virus is undetectable. In other words, if someone is on effective HIV treatment, it is extremely unlikely HIV will be passed on. This is a massive breakthrough. It means that if everyone with HIV were on effective treatment, we could finally stop the spread of HIV. Until then, it is essential to use condoms to protect yourself from HIV.

If left untreated, HIV can be fatal. It damages the immune system, preventing bodies from fighting off infections that we could normally handle. More than 500 people died from HIV-related illness in the UK in 2013.

Cary James, Head of Health Promotion, Terrence Higgins Trust said:
“The new figures show how important National HIV Testing Week is. If people with HIV go undiagnosed they are at risk of damaging their health and unknowingly passing on the virus.

“We need to take every opportunity to remind gay men to get tested at least once a year and more often if they are changing partners often or have been at risk.”

Public Health England’s key findings:

  • 6,151 people were newly diagnosed in the UK in 2014. This figure was 6,032 in 2013 and 6,353 in 2010 (7,893 in 2005)
  • 75% of new diagnoses were in men, 25% in women
  • 59% of people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2014 were aged between 25-44.
  • But we are seeing increases in people acquiring HIV over the age of 45 (from 16% of new diagnoses in 2005 to 29% in 2014).
  • Almost half of all diagnoses were made in London (2,671)
  • The number of MSM newly diagnosed with HIV continues to rise – 3,360 men in 2014 (this was 3,270 in 2013)
  • New diagnoses acquired through heterosexual sex has declined slightly to 2,490 in 2014 from 2,480 in 2013 and has halved since 2005 (4,840).
  • New diagnoses among black African men and women has also declined slightly to 1,233 in 2014, from 1,284 in 2013 and 2,025 in 2010.

Follow the week on:  #ImTesting and #HIVTestWeek

Dr Christian Jessen Twitter Q&A – Monday, November 23. More details here #askDrC

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