A fifth of people living with HIV in the UK (98,400) are unaware of their infection according to a new Public Health England report.

Published today in the run up to National HIV Testing Week, some 21,900 need to test and around half (47 per cent) of the 6,360 people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2012 were identified late. New HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) also reached an all-time high, with 3,250 cases in 2012.

Between 2011 and 2012 a small decline in the proportion of people living with HIV unaware was seen (25 per cent to 22 per cent), but this needs to be accelerated as early HIV diagnosis and timely treatment can nowadays mean a near-normal lifespan. This is why National HIV Testing Week (22-29 November) is so important, raising awareness of the benefits of testing and encouraging the people most at risk, MSM and black Africans, to get tested.

Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE’s Health and Wellbeing Director, said “National HIV Testing Week is a great opportunity to alert people to the benefits of testing – for individuals and for the UK’s public health. PHE is urging members of the public, clinicians, commissioners and community leaders to support and engage with the campaign.”

HIV-england-uk public healthProfessor Noel Gill, head of PHE’s HIV and STI department, “In the UK, people who are unaware of their infection are likely to be those most at risk of transmitting HIV to others. We must increase the speed at which we’re reducing the number of undiagnosed HIV infections by encouraging earlier and more frequent HIV testing, especially by those most at-risk. Earlier diagnosis will help reduce new HIV infections across the UK.

“Around half of men who have sex with men recently diagnosed with HIV received their diagnosis the first time they tested, which is a strong indication that many men who should be testing are not. National HIV Testing Week gives people a great opportunity to get tested.”

National guidelines recommend that HIV testing should be offered routinely to everyone admitted to hospital and people registering with a GP surgery in areas of the country with HIV prevalence greater than 2 per 1000 people. Introducing additional ways to get tested, such as home-sampling services, is also encouraging more people to test.