Around 96,000 people were living with HIV in the UK at the end of 2011, of whom a quarter were unaware of their infection.1
In 2011, there were 6,280 new diagnoses of HIV, contributing to a cumulative total of 124,602 cases reported by mid 2012.2
As of mid 2012, there have been 27,814 diagnoses of AIDS in the UK, and 20,674 people living with HIV have died (not necessarily of causes relating to HIV and AIDS).
Following the discovery of AIDS in the UK in the early 1980s, there was a steady increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV. From 1987 to 1990 the cumulative number of reported HIV diagnoses almost doubled, from 8,888 to 15,570.
HIV/AIDS was first concentrated among three ‘high-risk’ groups – men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users and people who had received blood products.
Between 1990 and 1998 the epidemic was fairly steady with between 2,000 and 3,000 new HIV diagnoses reported annually. From 1999 there was a steep increase in the number of annual HIV diagnoses, peaking in 2005 at 7,824. There has been a slight decline in subsequent years, but the number of new HIV diagnoses today is still far higher than the pre-2001 figure.
The introduction of combination antiretroviral treatment in the mid-1990s has resulted in a steep decline in the number of AIDS cases and deaths reported each year. In 1997, deaths among people living with HIV amounted to 748, compared to 1,481 the previous year. Since 1998 the annual number of people living with HIV who have died has remained more or less constant, usually between 400 and 600 each year.
Most of the HIV diagnoses transmitted through heterosexual sex in 2011 were among people who acquired HIV abroad. However, new HIV diagnoses acquired through heterosexual sex within the UK are on the increase.
Men who have sex with men
By mid 2012, 54,558 MSM had been diagnosed with HIV in the UK.4 The number of new HIV diagnoses among this group has been steadily increasing since 2001 – peaking in 2007 at 2,818. It is likely this trend is due to an increase in HIV testing, although a rise in high risk sexual behaviour has also been suggested as a contributory factor.5 6
Injecting drug users
Injecting drug use has played a smaller part in the HIV epidemic in the UK than it has in many other high-income countries. During 2011, a reported 132 people diagnosed with HIV acquired it through this transmission route.7 Since the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the UK, 5,639 HIV diagnoses have occurred as a result of injecting drug use.Those aged between 30 and 34 accounted for the largest share (1,089) of new HIV diagnoses in 2011. This was closely followed by the 35-39 age group (1,073) and the 25-29 age group (979). Since records began, the largest proportion of HIV diagnoses have been among people in their thirties.
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV
Surveillance of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (MTCT) relies on confidential voluntary reports from paediatricians and obstetricians. Overall, 2183 children (aged 14 or under) diagnosed with HIV in the UK have been infected through mother-to-child transmission.8 However, due to the widespread use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission, this rate was still far lower than in many other countries.
By mid 2012, a reported 2,002 people had become infected with HIV through contaminated blood products – almost 80 percent were diagnosed before 1995. Blood safety guidelines were established in 1985 to ensure no more infections occurred through unsafe blood transfusions.9