National HIV Testing Week
My name is Tara and I have been incredibly privileged to be able to join the Chichester Pride Committee this year as we plan to celebrate Chichester Pride on 27th May 2023.
An important part of what we do as a committee, beyond representing our community or celebrating love and acceptance in our city, is to also offer education and signposting to support our community and indeed Chichester as a whole!
Naturally, being a doctor by profession, I want to focus a little on health. I hope to provide helpful information on a variety of topics in the future, however, would like to focus on HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] for this post.
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. 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.
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 compared to 45% of diagnoses being in gay/bisexual men, 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.
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 which are making significant inroads into reducing transmission of HIV, preventing progression to AIDS (more recently referred to as advanced HIV) and in fact, we appear to be making good progress to meet the target of zero HIV transmission by 2030. 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.
Most importantly, I wish you all health and happiness
I hope to celebrate Chichester Pride with you this year!
Links to check out:
For a free HIV test kit , ordered online, delivered to your door discretely:
To request Sexually Transmitted Infections kit online, confidential service in West Sussex: https://www.sexualhealthwestsussex.nhs.uk/online-testing/
For information on HIV and sexual health, guidance and support:
For Mental health and wellbeing support: