AIDSribbonEfforts to reduce HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men in the UK 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 increase in treatment uptake from 69% to 80% between 2001 and 2010, researchers wrote in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal today.

The researchers felt 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 findings are “sobering,” Reuben Granich, a researcher at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. The result “clearly shows that increased testing and earlier treatment is no quick and easy solution,” 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 UK 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%.

Today’s findings, from the team led by Daniela de Angelis at the UK’s Medical Research Council, suggest that more targeted testing and earlier treatment may be needed to control HIV among gay and bisexual men.

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