THE number of gay men diagnosed with HIV has reached the highest level ever recorded for this country, according to new figures.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre says the number of new cases has been "rising steeply" since 2008 and reached record levels in 2012.
Altogether 166 gay men were diagnosed with HIV in 2012 compared to 131 heterosexuals and 14 intravenous drug users.
Although figures have not been completed for 2013 the HPSC says "this increasing trend has continued" with 82 gay men diagnosed for the first time in the first six months of the year. Almost half of those who contracted HIV in 2012 tested negative for the infection in the previous 12 months.
The HPSC report says the average age of newly diagnosed men was 31, with the biggest increase in the 20-29 age group.
The majority had no symptoms at the time of their diagnosis but took the test because they were having a screen for sexually transmitted infection, had engaged in risky behaviour or had an infected partner.
The study found that men aged 50 and older were much more likely to have symptoms related to HIV or AIDS at the time of their diagnosis and have taken the test for that reason.
A significant number of these men (67pc) were diagnosed late into the development of the condition.
Most of the men diagnosed with HIV were Irish born but the study showed an increase in recent years in the numbers born abroad with the biggest group coming from Latin America – a rise from one case in 2003 to 21 cases in 2012.
Nearly a quarter of the men diagnosed with HIV were also infected with syphilis, 7pc had gonorrhoea and 6pc had chlamydia.