Have you ever taken a HIV test?
If not then today, which is National HIV Testing day, is the day when we are going to encourage you to change that.
We are very lucky here in the UK that testing for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections are done for free on the NHS, however in some areas Sexual health clinics have been the victim of under funding and so finding a centre to go to can be tricky particularly if you live in a rural setting,++++ but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t get it done. Go to your GP and discuss it with them, they will either do it for you or tell you where you can go to get it done. Alternatively there are now self testing kits available on the NHS if for some reason you can’t get to a clinic or feel apprehensive about doing so. I recommend you check out Come Curious recent Instagram story on their experience of using such a kit or go to the SH:24 website for more information
But why? I hear you ask. I don’t have HIV. I am not in any of the risk groups. I am married. I am single. I am in my 60’s.
There are approximately 101,600 people living with HIV in the UK (as of 2017). 92% of those people are diagnosed and receiving treatment for the condition but that still leaves 8%, that is the equivalent to 1 in 12 people infected with HIV do not know that they have the virus which means they are putting themselves at risk of developing symptoms and potentially in an advancement of the disease that makes it harder to treat in the long run and also potentially putting any sexual partners they have at risk if infection too. Just because you are married, or single or older, does not mean you can’t get HIV. In fact the rate of infection in the 50 – 64 age group has seen a significant rise in the last few years and two in five people accessing HIV care in the UK are now aged 50 or over. Don’t assume you are too married/single/old, to have HIV and the best thing you can do for yourself if you are infected is to get treatment because unlike in the past where HIV was a very real risk to life it is now a disease that not only can be controlled but in an increasing number of cases become completely asymptomatic. The earlier the diagnosis the better the chance of that is.
The history of the HIV virus is very complex. It is believed that it was passed from chimpanzees and/or Gorillas (being eaten as meat) to humans in Central Africa at some point during 1915–1931. However it wasn’t until the 1960’s that cases really started to show up in the human population and the late 1970’s when the first recorded cases of AIDS and AIDS related deaths occurred in the west. However the incubation period for HIV is approximately 10 years and so whilst people were increasingly becoming infected throughout the 1970’s it was not until the 1980’s that it was declared a epidemic as increasing numbers of people started to fall ill with full blown AIDS. The AIDS epidemic, in the USA, officially began on June 5, 1981. By August 1982, the disease was being referred to by its new CDC-coined name: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
In the UK the first AIDS related death was the 1st November 1981. In 1982 Terry Higgins died of AIDS related illness. The Terence Higgins Charity was set up in his name and continues to this day to campaign and provide services related to HIV and sexual health in general. If you are of an age and lived in the UK then you will likely remember the huge government information campaign “AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance” that was launched in 1987. Leaflets were distributed to ever household in the UK and a series of hard hitting TV commercial were run that attempted to educate the population about the risks the importance of condom use. At the time it had a pretty big impact on people helped cement the role of the condom in STI prevention in the general public’s mind.
Today HIV prevention continues to centre around condom use and early testing but there are also drug options for those who are at a higher risk of being infected, for example those who live with a partner who is HIV+ or those working within the medical field with infected patients. For most people though the really important thing is to always use a condom with a partner unless you have both been tested negative and are absolutely sure you are in a monogamous fluid bound relationship and of course regular STI screening because early detection can literally save your life.
There is increasing evidence that all these advances in the treatment and prevention of HIV could lead to the transmission of HIV between people being eradicated. In fact the UK government has recently pledge to bring that fact about by the year 2030. A spokesperson for the Terrance Higgins trust said about this pledge
“We now have the tools to end HIV transmissions. Through regular HIV testing, condom use, access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), prevention information and advice, and effective treatment which means people living with HIV cannot pass on the virus, we can stop HIV in its tracks.”
Getting tested for HIV is one of the ways in which we can bring about the end of this disease being spread from person to person and on a individual level it means you will know, one way or the other, either you are negative and all is well and you can continue to use safe sex practices that reduce your chance of being infected or you are not and can seek treatment which means that the condition won’t have a huge impact on your life and the lives of your friends and family.
So today, on National HIV Testing day, why not take the step towards helping to eradicate HIV transmission once and for all?