How common is HIV?

Although anyone could get HIV, not all people or parts of the world are affected to the same level. Rates of HIV infection are in large part linked to sexual or drug taking behaviour.

A higher number of sexual partners is linked to the spread of HIV. Anal sex without a condom is even higher risk than unprotected vaginal sex (which is why gay and bisexual men have high rates of HIV). Drug users who share injecting equipment are also at greater risk of HIV (the reason for high rates of infection in some countries).

HIV in the UK

Around 1 in 330 people in the UK has HIV. It is estimated that by the end of 2012 around 100,000 people in the UK will be infected. Of these one in four don’t know they have HIV because they have never had a HIV test, or became infected since their last test.

Recent years have seen around 6,000 people test positive for HIV each year; around half are gay and bisexual men, heterosexuals make up the other half. Around 40,000 gay and bisexual men and around 47,000 heterosexuals were estimated to have HIV in Britain in 2010. Most of the heterosexuals are from Africa but a third are not. London has the largest numbers of infected people but every part of the UK has growing numbers of people with HIV.

HIV in Africans in Britain

Less than 0.2 per cent of people in Britain have HIV but many African countries have much higher rates, with over 20 per cent (1 in 5) of men and women infected in some countries. As a result the level of HIV among African people who have moved to the UK is high. Around 1 in 20 Africans in the UK are estimated to have the virus; most were infected before they moved to Britain.

HIV in gay and bisexual men in Britain

Gay and bisexual men in Britain also have high rates of infection. Nationally around 1 in 20 are estimated to have HIV. But in some cities around 1 in 10 are infected. Gay and bisexual men make up over 70 per cent of people who get HIV sexually in the UK. In 2011 over 3,000 tested HIV positive, the highest figure ever reported.

HIV in other groups

Gay and bisexual men and UK-based Africans account for the large majority of people living with HIV in Britain, but a growing number of people with HIV are neither African nor gay men. Around 18,000 heterosexuals born either in the UK or outside Africa also have HIV.

In some parts of the world high HIV rates are found in those who inject drugs and share equipment.

Thanks to needle exchange programmes that give out clean equipment, levels of HIV among UK drug injectors remain low.

Thanks to HIV positive pregnant women receiving HIV medication, hardly any babies are now born with HIV in this country.

Since screening of the nation’s blood supply began in 1985 HIV infections from transfusions or other blood products have virtually stopped. No-one has been infected from a blood transfusion in over ten years. As a result haemophiliacs no longer have high levels of HIV infection.

The number of people living with HIV aged over 50 has been increasing, from 1 in 10 in 1999 to 1 in 5 in 2010.

Page content supplied by Copyright 2012 © Terrence Higgins Trust.

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