This week marks HIV Testing Week across the UK, and Brigette Bard, Founder of Last Taboo and CEO of BioSure UK, looks at why this week is so important in raising awareness of HIV and encouraging people to test…
Thirty years ago, if a person felt unwell or was in pain, they would book an appointment, pop into their family doctor’s surgery and have a chat with their GP who would investigate the symptoms, diagnose and prescribe treatment, which in many cases would be bedrest and plenty of fluids.
Ten years ago, if a person felt unwell or was in pain, they would go online, Google their symptoms, decide what was wrong with them (more often than not, they would come up with a much more serious diagnosis than their symptoms indicated), panic and visit a GP, telling the doctor precisely what they deemed to be wrong with them…
Today, people are much more inclined to go straight to their smartphone. They’ll Google their symptoms, self-diagnose, research the prognosis, investigate relevant forums, find out the names of the various medications and treatments, decide which one is best for them and then book an appointment with a GP with their sole purpose to get a prescription or specific referral.
How things have changed…
But, in the realms of sexual health and in particular HIV, the diagnostic process is somewhat different for a quarter of the people who have HIV in the UK. Stigma, misinformation and fear prevent too many people from taking an HIV test.
It’s no surprise that one of the most popular Google search terms around HIV is ‘HIV symptoms’ as those worried that they may have taken a risk, seek information.
You can read more about HIV symptoms here, but other than the symptoms that can occur early after infection – seroconversion (when your body is making the antibodies) the symptoms are for the most part, invisible. In fact some people are HIV positive for years, feeling fit and healthy with no idea they have the virus. Public Health England reports that as many as 25% of people with HIV are completely unaware they are positive.
There are generally quite distinct groups of people who do not test for HIV –
- those who are worried about their HIV status, looking up symptoms and living in fear of their result and never having the courage to get tested.
- those who mean to, but it’s not really convenient to get to a sexual health clinic (and they might bump into someone they know) so never quite get round to testing
- those who have absolutely no idea they may have ever been exposed to HIV and go on as normal, oblivious to the fact they could be passing the virus onto other people.
The good news is that HIV is three letters; three syllables; three words. It’s not a sentence.
Advances in anti-retroviral treatments (ARTs) mean that with the right diagnosis, advice and treatment, people with HIV in the UK today continue to live healthy lives without the threat of the virus developing into a more serious illness and not onwardly transmitting the virus. Protecting themselves and others
The advertisements enforcing fear about AIDS in the 1980s have been resigned to history.
The best thing a person who is worried they might have been exposed to HIV can do, is test and know for sure what their status is. This can happen in a variety of ways but the most likely exposure is generally due to unprotected sex with someone who’s sexual history and HIV status is unknown.
If the result is negative, they can feel empowered and seek advice on how to remain HIV negative and if they’re positive, they can access support, start treatment and realise that while HIV is life changing it’s not life limiting.
But the internet can’t tell you your HIV status.
We’re can’t tell you which is the right one, because that’s down to your personal preference.
However we can offer more information on our blog about how to test for HIV. We can also tell you how important it is to get tested. Whether you want to
- visit a GUM clinic or sexual health centre and speak to someone face to face,
- send a blood sample off and receive your result later by phone or text,
- visit a pop up centre available during HIV testing week between 21 and 27 November 2015,
- or test yourself at home and find out your result yourself in 15 minutes.
There are options and what we can tell you is that the most important thing is to take a test and know your status.
We are proud to be partner in Last Taboo a website packed with information on HIV and sexual health and aiming to generate conversation. There’s also the option to ask any questions you might have about HIV or other sexually transmitted infections at firstname.lastname@example.org