NEW cases of HIV in the North-East rose last year with 152 people diagnosed, according to new figures.

There are now almost 1,500 people receiving treatment for HIV in the region - and as many as 350 more may be unaware they have the condition.

The statistics appear in a new Public Health England report published in the run up to National HIV Testing Week next week.

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Dr Kirsty Foster, consultant for health protection for Public Health England in the North East, said: "Last year 152 people in the region were diagnosed with HIV - up from 129 in 2011.

"This increase is something we need to take seriously. It may reflect that more people are coming forward to be tested which is a positive step, but we must not be complacent about getting the messages about HIV out to everyone and must continue our efforts to prevent transmission of this infection.

"We have seen an increase in new cases in men who have sex with men, whereas the number of new cases acquired through heterosexual transmission has been fairly stable for the past four to five years.

"HIV is a serious infection and if left untreated it can be life-threatening. But advances in treatment now mean the sooner HIV is diagnosed and treated, the better the treatment outcome and the lower the risk of passing it on to others.

"Testing for HIV and all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is both free and confidential at Genito-urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics (sexual health clinics).

"The most important message is that the best way to protect yourself from contracting any STI in the first place is by practising safe sex and using condoms with all new and casual partners," said Dr Foster.