On Tuesday, 780 patients of an HIV clinic at London’s 56 Dean Street were shocked to learn that their names and email addresses had been accidentally shared after an email error. Many of those affected by the email slip express the extreme stress and anxiety the incident has caused them, highlighting that, despite advances in treatment, a positive HIV diagnosis still takes a heavy toll on patients’ mental well-being.

56 Dean Street clinic, a sexual health, HIV testing and care, and contraception clinic described by BuzzFeed News as one of Europe’s busiest sexual health centers, accidentally sent out its online newsletter for members of the HIV clinic as a CC (carbon copy) rather than a BCC (blind carbon copy). As a result, the intimate details of the patients’ identities were made public. Alan McOwan, the clinic’s consultant and lead clinician, described the leak as a “devastating error” but also stressed the fact that not everyone on the list is necessarily HIV-positive, BBC News reported.

Regardless of whether or not they actually have a positive diagnosis, clients whose names appear on the list worry that simply being associated with the HIV stigma may be devastating enough.

Networks such as Facebook and Twitter make it easy to correctly identify the patients using information contained in the email. Others expressed how the mix-up has forced them to become open with their HIV status against their wishes.

"I am not ready to disclose my HIV status to my wider friends or family. I fear now that I have no choice," James from London, who chose not to disclose his full identity, told BBC News.

Today, people living with HIV/AIDS are living longer, healthier lives than ever before, but as demonstrated by the clinic's error, the emotional toll of the virus can still be devastating. Many people who are diagnosed with HIV are often afraid of losing friends and family because of the stigma attached to the disease. A 2010 study of 1,457 HIV-positive people in five African countries found that study participants’ perceptions of experiencing higher levels of HIV-related stigma was directly correlated with negative changes in self-reported quality of life. HIV-positive patients are also at risk of developing serious mental health conditions, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, LiveStrong reported.

Education is key to helping break down the public’s stigma against HIV, but for many the damage by the email leak is already done.

“I am a bit paranoid that somehow the list might be shared or end up published on the Internet somewhere,” a 31-year-old man [whose] identity was included in the Dean Street Clinic email error told The Guardian. “It’s causing me a great deal of stress.”

The mistake could have serious consequences for the clinic, with The Guardian reporting that the information commissioner's office (ICO), a government group responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Act of 1998, could impose fines of up to 500,000 pounds ($762,700) for the privacy breach. Along with the legal repercussions, many worry that the significant data breach could affect the public’s trust of a public sexual health clinic.

“The truth is that we will throw this all away if we lose the public’s trust in our ability to look after their personal data securely,” said Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health for the UK’s health care system, the National Health Service (NHS).