LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Former Soviet states had the largest number of new HIV infections last year in the European region, mainly due to shared drug needles, an EU report said on Friday.
Former Soviet states reported 59,866 new cases of HIV, which causes AIDS, or 210.8 infections per million people, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said.
That was more than all the new cases in Western and Central Europe combined. The report defined Eastern Europe as the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union.
"Although this rate is lower than the epidemic peak observed in 2001, the number of reported new HIV ... diagnoses has increased in recent years," the EU agency said.
"Over a quarter of the new HIV diagnoses were among young people aged 15-24 years and 41 percent of the cases were reported amongst females."
Earlier this week, the United Nations slashed its estimates of how many people globally are infected with the AIDS virus from nearly 40 million to 33 million, mainly due to revised figures for India.
The agency also said the evidence showed the epidemic is creeping back in countries that have become less vigilant, mainly industrialised nations where many people with AIDS have access to drugs that can extend their lives.
In the EU study, Western Europe reported 25,241 new HIV cases, a rate of 82.5 infections per million, while Central European countries had 1,805 HIV cases, or 9.4 infections per million. Heterosexual contact was the main driver of transmission in those areas.
The agency also estimated about 30 percent of people living with HIV in Europe are unaware they are infected, which means they likely engage in risky behaviour that can spread the virus.
"It is anticipated that higher testing rates across Europe will link more HIV infected people to prevention and treatment services," the study said. (Reporting by Michael Kahn, editing by Michael Winfrey)