A TOTAL of 20 people in Somerset were diagnosed with HIV last year, as latest figures reveal sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the increase in the county.

And with the number of people over 50 in the county discovering they have HIV, the county council is sending out the message that 'age is no protection'.

Nationally and in Somerset, HIV diagnosis rates in heterosexual people over 50 are on the rise - one in six new cases are among those in that age group, with 61 per cent being diagnosed late, meaning they had the infection for some time without being aware of it.

STIs are also on the increase, with the largest proportional rise in gonorrhoea and chlamydia in the over 65s, with infections of syphilis doubling among heterosexual people in Somerset.

Trudi Grant, director of public health at Somerset County Council, said: "Anyone, whatever your age, can contract a, STI including HIV if you have unprotected sex - i.e. if you don’t use a condom.

"Having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of STIs being passed on quickly.

"Most people infected with HIV will experience a short, flu like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection.

"The most common symptoms are a raised temperature, sore throat and body rash.

"Other symptoms can include tiredness, joint and muscle pain and swollen glands.

"Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have HIV, but if you’ve had several of these symptoms and think you’ve been at risk of HIV infection within the past few weeks, you should get an HIV test.

"Late diagnosis of HIV can result in poorer health outcomes and a tenfold risk of dying prematurely.”

Whatever your age, think of the three Ts:

Think – new partner, use a condom;

Test – get tested, it’s safe and free;

Treat – live well.

You can get an HIV test through your GP or local sexual health clinic.

Once on treatment, the virus can be suppressed and becomes undetectable and so cannot be passed on to someone else.

Yesterday (Sunday) was World Aids Day, with people worldwide uniting in the fight against HIV and supporting those living with the virus.

County Hall in Taunton flew a red ribbon flag to mark the occasion.

Every year scientific advancements in HIV treatment are made, but more than 4,300 people are still diagnosed in the UK each year.