There are an estimated 33.3 million people with HIV and AIDS in the world today. According to recent figures, around 91,500 of those are living in the UK.
The numbers are pretty shocking but what’s more shocking is the fact that a quarter of those who have the disease are unaware that they are infected.
Doing the maths, more than 22,000 people in Britain don’t know they have HIV – which means that you, or the new man in your life, could be one of them.
While most of us know the basics of safe sex, growing numbers of people are now catching the virus – making it more important than ever to stay safe and go for testing.
Should you be tested?
Today, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is calling on everyone who attends a sexual health clinic to be offered testing. Current figures show that one-in-five people offered the test at a sexual health clinic refused to have it.
In a recent poll, Cosmo asked “Have you ever taken a HIV test?” Sixty-six per cent of you said “Nope, not got round to taking one”, 22 per cent said “Yes, I try to make it part of my regular sexual health check-up” and 11 per cent of you said “Not yet but I'll make sure it's a priority from now on.”
If you're one of the 66 per cent who haven't got round to being tested - now is a good time to make an appointment. Advances in medicine mean that if HIV is caught early enough, it can be controlled with drugs, reducing the impact on lifespan.
Sadly though, many of us are leaving it too late with catastrophic results.
Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust said: "People shouldn't be scared of HIV testing, but they should be scared of undiagnosed HIV.
"The advances in HIV treatment have been one of the biggest success stories in the 30 years since the virus first emerged, but too many people test too late and so fail to benefit from these drugs."
According to the HPA, half of those diagnosed with HIV in 2010 were identified after the point at which treatment should ideally have begun.
If you’re reluctant to attend an STI clinic, you can now order a confidential HIV saliva test online from Lloyds Pharmacy. The test involves a simple saliva swab which is then posted back for testing – with the results available to view online a few days later.
While the test cannot diagnose HIV, it can tell you if there are signs of the virus in your saliva, in which case a further diagnosis is required.
Dr Thom Van Every, medical director and sexual health expert at Lloydspharmacy, said: “Today’s HPA report on HIV shows that some people are being alarmingly complacent when it comes to their health.
“The reality is that a lot of people are put off getting tested because of the ongoing stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. I would urge people to stop and think about how they can take responsibility for their own health.
“There really is no shame in getting tested and World AIDS Day is a fantastic way to reduce the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS – and encourage people that may be concerned - for whatever reason – to take action and get tested.”
Safe sex – the facts
HIV is passed when infected bodily fluids (blood, semen, fluids from the vagina or breast milk) enter a person’s bloodstream. The virus can enter the blood through linings in the mouth, anus, the penis and vagina, or through broken skin. It is most commonly spread by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with an infected person and by sharing a needle to take drugs.
Both men and women can spread HIV, including pregnant women who can give the virus to their babies. A person with HIV may have flu like symptoms within a few weeks of being infected, but may feel healthy for months or even years before symptoms show.
Myths about HIV and AIDS
You cannot get HIV from touching or hugging someone, from public toilets or swimming pools, or from sharing cups, utensils or telephones with someone who has the infection.
Did you know?
The two groups most affected are gay and bisexual men and black African heterosexuals – over three-quarters of people diagnosed with HIV in 2010 were among these two groups.
Some 6,660 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK last year.
More than 3,000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV last year - the highest ever annual number. One in 20 gay men is now infected with HIV nationally and in London the figure is one in 11.
Infections acquired within the UK nearly doubled in the last decade (to 3,640 in 2010) and now exceed those acquired abroad.
Just under 4% of England's population was tested for HIV in 2010. The majority of these were people attending GUM clinics or women going for pregnancy check-ups.