Free HIV Screening

About National HIV Testing Week



National HIV Testing Week (NHTW) is our flagship annual event which seeks to promote regular testing among key populations. It aims to reduce the numbers of undiagnosed people and those diagnosed late. It is held every November ahead of World AIDS Day. This year NHTW starts on Saturday 16 November 2019.

What is HIV?
HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’. It is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. In the UK, it is most commonly transmitted by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

‘Immunodeficiency’ refers to the damage caused to your immune system by the virus. Your immune system exists to fight infections and diseases. HIV makes your immune system weaker, so it is less able to protect you from illness and keep you well.

HIV can be treated by taking antiretroviral medication. Though it cannot be completely cured, effective treatment means you can live a long healthy life. If you start treatment early, after a few months you should have the virus under control. This means that you cannot transmit HIV to other people through sexual contact.

Public Health England recommends that people who are at risk of HIV infection should test regularly. Over 77% of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men were from people who did not test regularly, meaning they may have had the virus for some time without knowing. A late diagnosis of HIV means the virus has had more time to weaken your immune system. An early diagnosis allows you to start treatment early.

Free HIV testing and treatment is available from the NHS to anyone in the UK.

Symptoms of HIV
Most people may not notice early symptoms, as they are much like a cold or flu and only last for a week or two.

Early symptoms of HIV may include:

sore throat
body rash
HIV symptoms in women and men are similar, although they may vary from person to person.

These cold-like symptoms appear between two and six weeks after infection and are known as a ‘seroconversion’ illness. Seroconversion is a signal that your immune system is reacting to a virus and has started to produce antibodies (a protein in the blood) to fight the viral infection. It is these antibodies that are detected by an HIV test.

After the seroconversion illness, the untreated virus will continue to damage your immune system, but you may not notice any other symptoms for years.

If you have a weakened immune system, your body is less able to prevent the development of cancers, which means people with HIV are more likely to get certain cancers.

AIDS is caused after untreated HIV has been present for so long that your immune system is too weak to fight most infections.

If you put off your test, the virus could be doing a lot of damage. Even if you do not have any symptoms of an STI, it’s important to continue to get tested, as you may have an infection without knowing. You could also be passing the infection onto other people.

Some people are more likely to get HIV than others
Regular testing is highly recommended for certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of becoming infected:

men who have sex with men
black African heterosexuals
people who share drug taking equipment such as needles or syringes.
In the UK, the vast majority of people contract HIV through unprotected anal or vaginal sex.

The risk of catching it through unprotected oral sex is much lower, but is significantly higher if the person giving oral sex has bleeding gums, sores or ulcers. The virus is not transmitted through saliva but can be passed on through blood from these sores.

Of all HIV diagnoses in the UK in 2017:

53% were in gay or bisexual men
38% were in black African men or women
3% contracted HIV through sharing injecting equipment.
There are also a high number of undiagnosed cases. It has been estimated that almost 8,000 people in the UK are living with HIV without knowing, and could be passing the virus on to others.

If you test positive for HIV, you should tell all of your current partners and anyone else that you have had sex with in the last three months. They may have contracted HIV and it is important for them to get tested. It can be difficult to talk to people about your diagnosis. If you’d like some support, reply to one of our text messages. Our clinical team are on hand to support you. If your clinic confirmatory test is positive, the clinic staff will advise you about confidential partner notification services.

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