HIV diagnoses in gay men in the UK decreased by a third in two years

New HIV diagnoses in the UK have fallen again, with the greatest reduction seen in gay and bisexual men. Previously diagnoses in this group increased year on year, reaching 3390 in 2015. Since then they have fallen to 2820 diagnoses in 2016 and 2330 diagnoses in 2017 – this amounts to a 31% fall between 2015 and 2017.

The fall was greater in London (down 41%) than outside London (down 30%).

Releasing the figures, Public Health England attributed these changes to large increases in HIV testing (particularly repeat testing among higher risk men) and improvements in the early uptake of HIV treatment. They say it is too early to know how much pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has contributed.

Looking at all population groups, a total of 4363 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2017. This is a fall from 6043 diagnoses in 2015 and 5280 in 2016 – a 28% drop in the two years. For the first time, diagnoses in white heterosexuals have fallen.

There were 594 diagnoses in black African and black Caribbean heterosexuals. There has been a steady decline in diagnoses in this group since 2008, but for different reasons – due to fewer people migrating to the UK from high prevalence countries.

There were 849 diagnoses in heterosexuals of other ethnicities, a 20% fall. Previously there were around 1000 diagnoses per year. Public Health England do not speculate on the reason for this change.

The proportion of people diagnosed late has not improved – in 2017, 42% of all diagnoses were made with a CD4 cell count below 350/mm3. The highest rates are in heterosexual men (58% and 72% in black African heterosexual men) but also of great concern in heterosexual women (50%) and injecting drug users (47%). The rates are lower in gay and bisexual men (32%).

Public Health England released preliminary data today; they will publish a fuller analysis in November.