6 June 2011
In a report released by the Health Protection Agency to mark the 30 year anniversary of the first HIV diagnosis on 5 June 1981 in Los Angeles, epidemiologists are predicting that the number living with HIV in the UK will hit 100,000 by 2012.
Since the first diagnosis of HIV was made 30 years ago there have been 115,000 infections diagnosed in the UK alone. Of these people diagnosed with the once deadly infection 27,000 have developed full blown AIDs and 20,000 have died.
Today, individuals diagnosed with the infection in the early stages can expect a normal life span compared with the first decades of the global epidemic when HIV was fatal. The ongoing high rate of HIV diagnoses and fewer deaths from AIDS, following treatment advancements, has resulted in a steady year on year rise in the number of persons living with diagnosed HIV in recent years. By 2012, it is estimated the number of people living with HIV in the UK (diagnosed and undiagnosed) will reach 100,000.
Although treatment is successful when the infection is diagnosed early, HIV is still a life long infection without a cure. Last year there were 3,800 people diagnosed with HIV who acquired the infection in the UK, not aboard, and this number has doubled over the past decade. If all UK acquired infections had been prevented, £1.2 billion lifetime treatment costs would have been saved.
Dr Valerie Delpech, head of the HIV department at the Health Protection Agency said:
"The significant advances in medicine have had an immense impact on the HIV situation in the UK which has been enormously important in removing the stigma associated with the infection as it is not the death sentence it was 30 years ago. However, practicing safe sex is as vital as it was when the epidemic began. Wearing a condom with all new or casual partners should be normal practice. Prevention is the best way to combat HIV and AIDs – there is still no cure.
"Preventing onward HIV transmission is also essential. The sooner an infection is diagnosed then the chances of spreading it wider are immediately reduced. The HPA advises that an HIV test should be routinely offered and recommended to all general medical admissions to hospital in high prevalence areas (areas where diagnosed HIV infection is greater than 2 per 1,000 in those aged 15-59 years). Similarly, testing new registrants in primary care should be implemented in these areas. Such expanded HIV testing policies should be prioritised for implementation as soon as possible.
"HIV is an extremely serious infection. There are excellent treatment options available nowadays but these are only at their most effective if the infection is diagnosed early, before symptoms appear. This is a challenge as most individuals will not be aware of their infection until they get tested for HIV. Testing for the infection must be increased in order to catch the infection as early as possible.
"The impact of late diagnosis is clearly demonstrated when you look at deaths among people with HIV - three out of five of HIV positive individuals that die are diagnosed too late to gain the most health benefits from their treatment, like increased life expectancy.
"The prevention of HIV infection is a public health and financial priority in the UK. Continuing high numbers of new HIV diagnoses in the UK is a major public health concern. We must keep reinforcing the safer sex message - using a condom with all new or casual sexual partners is the surest way to prevent serious sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. Treatment alone will not stop this epidemic - behaviour change is crucial to reducing the number of new infections."
Dr Paul Cosford, executive director of Health Protection Services at the HPA said:
"Unfortunately in the last few years new diagnoses of HIV infections acquired within the UK are on the upward turn in men who have sex with men and the 30 year anniversary is a timely reminder that this infection is still very much an issue 30 years on.
"We are continuing to work hard alongside clinicians, public health specialists and communities to ensure that HIV prevention remains at the top of the public health agenda. This will help to accelerate the introduction of fresh initiatives to prevent the transmission of HIV infection.
Notes to editors
1. 30 years on: people living with HIV in the UK about to reach 100,000. Health Protection Report, 3 June 2011.
2. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. It does this by providing advice and information to the general public, to health professionals such as doctors and nurses, and to national and local government. In 2012 the HPA will become part of Public Health England. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk
3. For media enquiries please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Out of hours the duty press office can be contacted on 020 8200 4400.
Last reviewed: 6 June 2011