Roughly 13,500 people are living with undiagnosed HIV in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has revealed.
New figures show that an estimated 101,200 people are living with HIV in the UK, a significant proportion of which have not been properly diagnosed.
“It is very worrying that so many people with HIV are living with an undiagnosed infection and may be putting sexual partners at risk,” said Dr Valerie Delpech, PHE’s head of HIV surveillance.
The government health body said it is working to reduce the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV by improving access to testing.
It is also funding HIV home-sampling test kits which can be ordered at www.freetesting.hiv.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens a person’s ability to fight infections and disease. It is most commonly caught by having sex without a condom.
AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when a person’s body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.
With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.
PHE said it is “critical” that anyone who is at risk of HIV, such as those living in high prevalence areas or who have recently had sex with a new or casual partner, gets tested.
This is because those diagnosed early can have a life expectancy almost matching that of people who are HIV free.
PHE said 96% of people diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment, which is good for their long term health, but also means almost all (94%) on treatment will have undetectable virus levels and pose virtually no risk of passing the virus on to sexual partners.
Of the 6,095 people diagnosed with HIV in 2015, 39% were diagnosed at a late stage of the infection. People who are undiagnosed or diagnosed late have poorer health outcomes and are more likely to die prematurely, they are also more likely to pass on the infection to others.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published guidance to support increased uptake of HIV testing. For the first time, this guideline will be co-badged with Public Health England (PHE).
The guideline recommends HIV testing is offered in hospitals, accident and emergency units and GP practices in areas of high HIV prevalence.
Dr Valerie Delpech from PHE said: “Regular HIV testing ensures that people who are unaware of their infection are quickly diagnosed and start receiving safe and effective treatment. There are now several effective ways to prevent HIV transmission.
“We are again working with local authorities to fund the HIV home-sampling test kit, so that those people who are less likely to visit their GP, sexual health clinic for a HIV test – can take the test at home.
“It is essential that health services are aware of the prevalence of HIV in their local area and the potential demand for HIV testing.
“Ultimately, it is important that people avoid the risk of developing HIV by wearing a condom and practicing safe sex.”
In 2015, 6,095 people (4,551 men and 1,537 women) were diagnosed with HIV in the UK, 54% (3,320) of which were gay and bisexual men.
The HIV epidemic still remains largely concentrated among gay/bisexual men and it is estimated that in 2015, 47,000 gay and bisexual men were living with HIV – 12% of whom were undiagnosed.
However, anyone can acquire HIV regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion.