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Home News centre National Press Releases 2011 Press Releases ›  HPA urges 'universal testing' for HIV as it is revealed more than 21,000 people are unaware they have the infection

HPA urges 'universal testing' for HIV as it is revealed more than 21,000 people are unaware they have the infection

29 November 2011

The number of people living with HIV in the UK reached an estimated 91,500 in 2010, with a quarter of those unaware of their infection, according to Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures published today (Tuesday) ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December.


The report also showed how in 2010, one in five people visiting an STI clinic did not accept an HIV test. This comes as the HPA calls for universal testing for HIV, so that no one leaves an STI clinic without knowing their HIV status.

The HPA is concerned that over half of people diagnosed in 2010 came forward for testing after the point at which treatment for their infection should ideally have begun. Late diagnosis is associated with an increased risk of AIDS and death. Among the 680 people with HIV who died in 2010, two thirds were people who had been diagnosed late. The HPA report recommends that in areas where prevalence of HIV is high, there should be universal testing for the infection in all new GP registrants and patients admitted to hospital so as to reduce late diagnosis.

The HPA’s annual ‘HIV in the UK’ report found 6,660 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK. The report confirmed that infections probably acquired within the UK almost doubled in the last decade from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,640 in 2010 and exceed those acquired abroad – 3,020. This rise is mostly due to infections acquired among men who have sex with men, who remain the group most at risk of HIV infection in the UK.

In 2010, over 3,000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV – the highest ever annual number. One in 20 gay men are now infected with HIV nationally with one in 11 in London.

Dr Valerie Delpech, consultant epidemiologist and head of HIV surveillance at the HPA, said: “HIV is an infection which can nowadays be treated and those diagnosed promptly can expect to experience similar life expectancy as an individual without the infection. However, we are very concerned that a large number of people in the UK are unaware of their HIV status and are diagnosed late.

“We want to see increased access to HIV testing routinely offered in clinical settings such as new registrants at GPs and hospital general admissions, in areas of the country where rates of HIV infection are high. We are also urging sexual health clinics to ensure that HIV testing is offered as part of a universal sexual health screen at every new attendance.

“Research by the HPA has shown that routine and universal testing is feasible to undertake and acceptable to patients. Increased testing and greater access will help reduce the number of people who are unaware of their HIV status and increase the chances of early diagnosis, when treatment is more successful.”

Dr Delpech added: “Thanks to the development of anti-retroviral treatments and universal access to world class health care through the NHS, HIV is a manageable illness for the vast majority of people affected in this country. But an HIV diagnosis means a lifetime of medication and the costs of providing specialist HIV treatment and care are substantial and accelerating, so avoiding the infection altogether is essential for controlling the epidemic in the UK.

“If you are having sex, using condoms with any new or concurrent partners is the best way to prevent HIV. We encourage all people to take up the offer of an HIV test in whatever health care setting.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. HIV in the UK report - the Health Protection Agency's 'HIV in the United Kingdom: 2011 report' is available from the website: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Publications/InfectiousDiseases/HIVAndSTIs/
  2. Estimating undiagnosed HIV infections - statistical modelling frameworks and techniques are applied to combine different surveillance and survey data to obtain an estimate of the prevalence of HIV in the population. For more information about HIV prevalence visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/HIV/OverallHIVPrevalence/  
  3. Late diagnosis - adults diagnosed with a CD4 cell count of less than 350 (within 91 days of diagnosis) are defined as diagnosed 'late', adults diagnosed with a CD4 cell count of less than 200 are defined as diagnosed 'very late'. For more information about late diagnosis, visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webw/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/Page/1201094588994?p=1201094588994  
  4. Access to HIV testing - the Department of Health has funded eight projects looking at the feasibility and acceptability of offering HIV testing in medical and community settings. The HPA was tasked with analysing the results of these projects. The final report, entitled:Time to test for HIV: Expanding HIV testing in healthcare and community services in England, can be viewed here: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1316424799217  
  5. 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. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk. 
  6. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 020 8200 4400.

Re-issued 13:00 29/11/2011

Last reviewed: 29 November 2011