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HIV in the UK

UK

HIV is one of the fastest-growing serious health conditions in the UK. Which groups have been affected most and how are things changing?

HIV in the UK — 2015 statistics

  • An estimated 101,200 people are living with HIV in the UK.
  • Of these, 13% are undiagnosed and do not know about their HIV infection.
  • 594 people with HIV died.
  • 305 were diagnosed with an AIDS defining illness, this is less than half than those diagnosed with AIDS in 2006.
  • There were 6,095 new HIV diagnoses.
  • Two-fifths (39%) of people diagnosed with HIV in 2015 were diagnosed late, after they should have already started treatment.
  • 88,769 people accessed HIV care services, 41% of whom live in London.
  • Of new HIV diagnoses in 2015, 54% were among men who have sex with men (MSM).
  • Of those accessing HIV care, one in three (34%) are aged 50 years or older, and 5% are 65 or older.
  • HIV testing has increased over the past 10 years. Testing rates are highest in MSM and black African people.

All data is taken from Public Health England [PDF].

  1. Overview
  2. History
  3. Groups
  4. Location
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Stats

Overview

There are now more people living with HIV in the UK than ever before. In 2015, an estimated 101,200 people in the UK were living with HIV, 13% of whom were unaware of their infection.

A total of 6,095 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2015. The proportion of new infections from heterosexual contact that were UK-acquired has increased from 40% to 57% (2006-2015). This proportion for MSM (men who have sex with men) has seen a slight decrease over the same time period.

Two-fifths (39%) of people diagnosed with HIV were diagnosed late, after they should have begun treatment. Late diagnosis is most common in certain groups, heterosexuals in particular:

  • heterosexual men (55%)
  • black African (53%)
  • heterosexual women (49%)
  • black other (49%)
  • black Caribbean (46%)
  • older people aged 65 and over (63%)

The number of new HIV diagnoses among MSM continues to surpass the number among heterosexuals (3,320 MSM and 2,360 heterosexuals in 2015).

Heterosexual infections accounted for 39% of new diagnoses. Out of all newly diagnosed heterosexual men and women, 28% and 18% respectively were aged 50 or older.

Out of all people accessing HIV care, 34% were aged 50 or over.

16% of all new HIV diagnoses were among people born in Africa. This is a third of the same figure in 2006, when 41% of all new HIV diagnoses were among people born in Africa.

The proportion of new diagnoses reported in people born in the UK has increased from 35% to 44% over the same period.

History

Early government media campaigns were successful in raising public awareness about HIV. The measures initially taken by UK governments in the 1980s, including condom and safer sex education, needle exchanges and harm reduction programmes - alongside strong efforts by the UK’s gay communities - made sure that we have far lower prevalence rates of HIV than some of our European neighbours.

France, Spain and Italy all have individually almost twice the number of people living with HIV than the UK.

For people living with HIV in the UK, the development (and availability on the National Health Service) of more effective anti-HIV drugs in the mid-1990s meant that they could stay healthier for longer. These treatment developments have continued and now people diagnosed early enough, and taking medication as recommended, can expect to live a near-normal life span.

However, over the course of the 1990s public and political complacency over the risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the UK crept in. Partly because of this, the number of new cases of HIV being diagnosed began to rise.

Today, men who have sex with men continue to be most at risk from HIV, in addition to black African heterosexual men and women.

In 2015, there were 101,200 people estimated to be living with HIV in the UK.

By the end of 2015, there had been a total of 28,995 diagnoses of AIDS in the UK, and more than 22,930 people diagnosed with HIV had died.


Groups

The two groups most affected in the UK are men who have sex with men (MSM) and black African heterosexual men and women.

Approximately 3,320 MSM (men who have sex with men) were diagnosed in 2015, 54% of the total. MSM are still the highest-risk group for HIV within the UK. In 2015 approximately two thirds  (68%) of newly diagnosed MSM probably acquired HIV in the UK.

A similarly large proportion of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2015 (39%) were infected through heterosexual sex. In 2015, 28% of newly diagnosed heterosexual men and 18% of newly diagnosed heterosexual women were aged 50 or older. Just less than half of those infected heterosexually were black African (47%).

Looking at probable country of infection, 57% of all heterosexuals diagnosed acquired HIV in the UK, compared to 68% of infections diagnosed in MSM in 2015. Over the past 10 years the  proportion of HIV infections acquired in the UK has gradually decreased in MSM and increased in heterosexual people being diagnosed.

The proportion of new diagnoses among people born in Africa has decreased from 41% of total diagnoses in 2006 to 16% in 2015. The number of new diagnoses reported in this group is less than a third of what it was in 2005.

Needle exchange and harm reduction programmes have been very effective and new diagnoses of HIV infection acquired through injecting drug use (210 in 2015) have remained low.

It is also possible for the virus to be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy but improvements to antenatal HIV testing and treatments make this increasingly rare.

In the past, some people also got HIV through blood products but in the UK this is now extremely rare. Since the introduction of testing for HIV in 1985, there have been three cases of transmission of the virus to patients through blood from donors, and none since 2002.

Location

Around two fifths (41%) of all those living with diagnosed HIV in the UK live in London. This proportion used to be much higher, but people with HIV are now living across all areas of the UK and particularly in major cities and in the North West of England.

In the last 10 years, the biggest increases in people living with diagnosed HIV have been in Wales, the Midlands and East of England and the North of England.

Diagnosis

If someone is diagnosed a long time after they have been infected with HIV, it is more likely that the virus will have already seriously damaged their immune system.

Someone is said to have been diagnosed late if the number of CD4 cells (a type of important immune system cell) in their bloodstream has dropped below a certain level (350cells/mm3).

Late diagnosis is one of the biggest contributing factors to illness and death for people with HIV.

It is very important that HIV is diagnosed early, so people can start treatment, look after their own health and take steps to ensure they don’t pass the virus on.

In 2015, an estimated 39% of adults (1,958) diagnosed with HIV were diagnosed with CD4 counts below 350, indicating that their immune systems may have already been damaged by the virus.

New treatment guidelines recommend that people with HIV should start taking medication as soon as possible after diagnosis. This is a change in old guidelines that recommended treatment to start when an individuals CD4 count was below 350.

Stats

Public Health England annually produce HIV and STI statistics from around the UK. We edit these into the regional and national bulletins of HIV or STI statistics which you can download here.


STI statistics

HIV statistics

 

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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 2/12/2016 by Kyle Christie

Date due for the next review: 2/12/2017

Content Author: D. Laycock

Current Owner: Policy

More information:

Public Health England, HIV in the United Kingdom: 2016 Report, London: Health Protection Services, Colindale. (November 2016)