An estimated 77,400 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2007 with more than a quarter unaware of their infection, according to figures released by the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) on Tuesday.

This compares to the estimated 73,000 previously reported to be living with the infection in 2006.

In 2007 there were 7,734 new diagnoses of HIV – a similarly high figure to previous years (7,334 in 2006).

Diagnoses among gay men continue to increase with 3,160 men (41 per cent of all new diagnoses) testing positive in 2007.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of individuals are being diagnosed with HIV late – at a point after which therapy should have begun – which means that they are missing out on the benefits associated with early diagnosis including prolonged life expectancy.

It is believed that around 28 per cent of infected people are unaware that they are infected. Dr Valerie Delpech, Head of HIV surveillance at the HPA’s Centre for Infections expressed her concern at this statistic:

“Diagnosing HIV infections earlier will reduce transmission of this infection as those unaware of their positive status pose a greater risk to future sexual partners. Late diagnosis also has a major impact on disease and life expectancy and it is vital that people are diagnosed early,” she said.

New national testing guidelines recommend wider HIV testing in those areas of the country where the prevalence of HIV infection is greatest and state that health professionals should offer HIV testing to all men and women aged 15 to 59 who are registering in general practice or admitted for medical care.

“Access to testing must be made easier. We need to improve availability of HIV testing in a number of healthcare settings, including general practice, to improve diagnosis of this infection. Without this we will not see the reduction in transmission that we need to see, or a further fall in serious disease,” said Dr Delpech.

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