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  • Chichester Pride

HIV Testing Week 2024 | The importance of testing

Hi Folx!


For those who don’t know me yet, my name is Tara and I am incredibly privileged to be an ongoing member of the Chichester Pride Committee.


As some of you may remember me saying last year, another very important part of what we do as a committee, beyond representing our community or celebrating love and acceptance in our city (Don’t forget to join us on 25th May 2024), is to also offer education and signposting to support our community, and indeed Chichester as a whole!


Being a doctor, I do have an active interest in both mental and physical health. In particular, this week, 5th to 11th February 2024, is National HIV Testing Week in the UK. In short, we are now in an incredible position, where we can be a part of the generation that genuinely stops HIV thanks to testing, treatment, condoms, PEP and PrEP. So if you want to play your part, but are not a fan of reading longer blog posts, then get yourself over to https://freetesting.hiv/ to order your free test to complete at home, or to https://www.startswithme.org.uk/ to see the national campaign website now!


If you fancy a bit more information on HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) from this post, then keep on reading!


HIV is a virus which weakens the immune system over time with potentially severe consequences, and affects around 100,000 people in the UK, with a further suspected 5000 people affected but unaware. HIV can be transmitted through blood, breast milk, mucous (lining rectum), semen and vaginal fluid if the person with HIV has a detectable viral load.


It is incredibly important to understand that we now have nearly 20years of robust scientific evidence which shows that HIV is only transmitted if the viral load is high enough to be detected, hence the slogan “Undetectable = Untransmittable”. This is because HIV treatments have improved massively since the 1980s and 1990s when HIV was able to run rampant, progressing to AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome], disproportionately impacting the gay community, and sadly, became a death sentence for many. Now with improved treatments, this is no longer the anticipated outcome for the vast majority of new diagnoses.


Most new infections arise from unprotected sex with someone who does not know that they have HIV. Whilst we are aware there is an increase in diagnoses in heterosexual people, with 49% of all new HIV diagnoses in England in 2020 being in heterosexual people, and 2021/22 figures also demonstrating more new diagnoses in the ‘straight’ population than the LGBT+ community, it remains that there are some groups of people who are at higher risk of becoming infected than others.

One group already mentioned are men who have sex with men [MSM], another being trans women and trans men who have sex with MSM, for whom it is recommended to have HIV and STI tests at least annually, or, every 3 months if having sex without condoms with new or casual partners. Another at risk group are black African men and women, for whom it is recommended to have regular HIV and STI tests if having sex without condoms or with new/casual partners also. There is also increased risk for those whom use recreational drugs intravenously whilst sharing IV kit.


The reason repeat testing in recommended, is that HIV self-test effectively tells you what your HIV status was 90 days ago, and blood test via sexual health clinics inform you on your status 45 days prior to the test, due to the time it takes for you’re the virus to either create a specific detectable protein or your body to create an antibody to the virus. However, the good news is, HIV testing is free to those who need it.


Unfortunately, following initial infection, many people may not notice early symptoms which occur two to six weeks after infection when seroconversion takes place, especially as they can present much like a cold or flu with very generic symptoms. However, despite minimal initial symptoms, left undetected and therefore untreated, the virus could do a lot of damage to the immune system, leaving infected persons very vulnerable to severe infections, even to the extent of higher incidence of certain types of cancer in people living with HIV due to the severity of weakened immune system.


However, we are incredibly fortunate now to have anti-retroviral treatments, free to those whom need it in the UK, which are making significant inroads into reducing transmission of HIV, preventing progression to advanced HIV (historically referred to as AIDS). In fact, we continue to make excellent progress to meet the target of zero HIV transmission by 2030, with 97% of people living with diagnosed HIV and taking medication having an undetectable viral load; an amazing outcome.


This really is a key message we want to share to beat the unnecessary stigma associated with HIV: Those whom are diagnosed early and given effective treatment promptly can now expect a normal life span. All largely due to earlier detection and treatment of HIV, hence the importance of HIV testing.


This week, is National HIV testing week. HIV testing is free, confidential and can be done from the comfort of your own home. A kit will arrive in a discrete envelope and all you need to do is take a fingerprick sample of blood, literally giving HIV the finger! Then simply follow the step by step instructions to post your kit and wait for the results. You can do this online at the links below. Please take a few moments to look at those websites and help to spread the word.


I wish you all health and happiness and I hope to celebrate Chichester Pride with you this year!

Tara

x


Links to check out:

For a free HIV test kit , ordered online, delivered to your door discretely: https://freetesting.hiv/


To request Sexually Transmitted Infections kit online, confidential service in West Sussex: https://www.sexualhealthwestsussex.nhs.uk/online-testing/


For the national campaign ‘It Starts With Me’ and individual stories as well as myth busting videos: https://www.startswithme.org.uk/


For information on HIV and sexual health, guidance and support: https://www.tht.org.uk/


For Mental health and wellbeing support: https://mindout.org.uk/

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