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HIV Testing and Treatment Fail to Curb U.K. Gay Infections

Efforts to reduce HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men in the U.K. over the past decade have failed, according to a study that shows infection rates have remained stable even as testing and treatment increased.

New infections in England and Wales have flat-lined at 2,300 to 2,500 a year, defying an almost four-fold increase in the testing rate and an advance in treatment uptake from 69 percent to 80 percent between 2001 and 2010, researchers wrote in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal today.

The trend may be caused by a rise in unsafe sex because men no longer view HIV infection as a death sentence, and social media that make it easier for men to find partners, the team led by Daniela de Angelis at the U.K.’s Medical Research Council wrote. More targeted testing and earlier treatment may be needed to bring infections down, they said.

The findings are “sobering,” Reuben Granich, a researcher at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “Given the complexity of the epidemic, a comprehensive response including the full range of societal and public health interventions will be necessary to reduce incidence,” Granich wrote.

While the number of new HIV infections globally dropped to 2.5 million in 2011 from 3.2 million in 2001, there’s evidence that the proportion of gay and bisexual men infected with HIV has increased, UNAIDS said in a report last year.

The U.K. and the World Health Organization recommend that people infected with HIV start treatment when their immune systems deteriorate below a certain level. Still, research has shown that starting treatment as soon as a person is diagnosed makes them less contagious, reducing transmission to sex partners by 96 percent.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and the U.K. Health Protection Agency.

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