This week 1st-7th February is National HIV Testing Week in England and was set up to promote regular testing to reduce the number of undiagnosed people or those diagnosed late with HIV. HIV itself is no longer life-threatening, thanks to major advancements in treatment in recent years, but untreated it can be highly infectious, so it’s really important to regularly get tested to keep you and your partners healthy. This also has particular relevance during LGBT+ History Month, as during the 1980s and early 90s there was a worldwide outbreak of HIV and AIDS that particularly devastated the queer community, turning lives completely upside down. It continues to this day to disproportionately affect and impact certain members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, transgender women in certain communities are almost 50 times more likely to live with HIV than the general population.
This theme is also explored in the new critically acclaimed TV show It’s A Sin, available now on Channel 4 - why not check it out? Actor Nathaniel Hall also features in an article about his experience being diagnosed with HIV at 16 and you can read more about it here.
It’s really important that you get tested and keep doing so regularly if you are sexually active. There is often a stigma around getting tested for HIV but there needn’t be as it is a completely normal thing to do and necessary to keep an eye on your health. Also, the more we talk about it and educate ourselves, the more that stigma goes away! That’s why shows like It’s A Sin are important for representation. If you’re still worried about your privacy, be assured that if you order home testing kits they will be discreetly packaged to prioritise your comfort.
Positive East is offering home testing kits for free for those who live or work in East London. You can sign up online at their website to have a test delivered to your home and arrange a consultancy by phone to coach you on how to use it. They also offer free sexual health advice so make sure to take advantage of all that is available!
If you don’t live in East London, check out the NHS website to find HIV Testing Services near you or find your nearest sexual health clinic or community testing site.
You can also ask your GP for an HIV test, or you can also request a free self-sampling kit online, or obtain a self-testing kit.
Remember, undetectable means untransmittable (U=U). When someone has HIV and is on effective treatment, it lowers the level of HIV in their blood and once that is low enough it becomes undetectable which means it can no longer be sexually transmitted. This is another reason why it’s so important to get tested, so that if necessary, you can get the right treatment. You can read more about U=U and some studies here.
- “Only gay men get HIV” - Anyone is able to contract HIV, and sexual transmission is not the only route.
- “HIV can be spread by touching someone with it” - HIV is only contracted via the following fluids: blood, breast milk, preseminal, rectal, vaginal and semen. It is not passed through spit or skin contact.
- “HIV is a death sentence” - HIV can be treated with new and emerging therapies such as antiretroviral therapy, giving those people who are diagnosed and treated well a normal life expectancy.
- “HIV always leads to AIDS” - HIV is the infection that causes AIDS. But AIDS is a syndrome of immune system deficiency that is the result of HIV attacking the immune system over time. And AIDS is also prevented by early treatment of HIV infection. Another reason to get tested regularly.
- “Those who test negative for HIV can have unprotected sex” - Whilst regular testing and knowing your status is a good way of preventing HIV transmission, it can take up to three months for HIV to show up on a test, even if someone was recently diagnosed with HIV. It is recommended to get a second test three months after the first, to confirm the result. Using condoms and/or PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) are other methods to help prevent transmission.