“The fact I’m HIV positive has very little impact on our relationship”

20 October 2019

Matt and Rebecca

Matt is living with HIV and Rebecca isn’t. Because Matt’s on effective HIV treatment he can’t pass the virus on, and so they spend very little time thinking about his HIV status. They’re far too busy getting on with life.

Rebecca

‘The biggest misconception I’d want to clear up is that you cannot have a healthy relationship with someone who is HIV positive. It’s not something to be scared of. As long as you’re informed and educated about it, you can have a happy relationship just like everybody else.

‘Matt has always been very open so if I’ve had any worries or concerns, he’s happy to talk them through. I’ve had HIV tests with the doctor and we talk about any issues. If he had been more reticent, then his status may have had a different impact on me.

‘I would say the best thing you can do is educate yourself and talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about how effective HIV treatment works. When medication is taken correctly, there is virtually no risk of transmission of the virus.

‘The medication is available and people can have a very healthy relationship.’

Matt

‘Me and Rebecca met six years ago and we fell in love. She was very level-headed and had no issues about my HIV status and we moved on from there.

‘We had to take precautions and make sure there was no transmission. Even so, there was never any drama, tears or aggravation so it was as smooth as it could be.

‘To be fair, my status is a very small part of our relationship. We barely talk about the infection itself – all she reminds me is to take my pills from time to time and that’s it. The fact I’m HIV positive has very little impact on our relationship.

‘Having a positive HIV status is not the worst thing that’s happened.’

Get tested

Do your bit to end transmission of HIV in the UK by getting tested this National HIV Testing Week, 16 – 22 November 2019.

It is extremely important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support enabling you to live a long and healthy life.

In most cases HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:

Mum, me and HIV – Andrew’s story

15 October 2019

Andrew Gamez-Heath and mother dressed smartly

How would your mum react if you were diagnosed with HIV? Or your partner, daughter or brother? A HIV diagnosis can come as a shock, but there is life, relationships and sex after HIV.

Here’s what happened when Andrew Gamez-Heath told his mum Alison.

Andrew on Alison

“When I was diagnosed with HIV I knew one of the hardest people to tell was going to be my mum,” says Andrew, who was diagnosed during National HIV Testing Week in 2014.

“As an adult I never wanted to give my parents any unnecessary worry, yet I was faced with having to tell her I had a virus which at the time, neither of us understood. I knew she would be devastated.

“It was 18 months after receiving my diagnosis that I told her and she reacted exactly the way I expected her to. Total panic!

“Since then, she has also has become a bit of an activist, spreading the message that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on to anyone who will listen her. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive parent.

“My advice to anyone living with HIV who maybe hasn’t told their family is to wait until you’re ready and you have got your head round your diagnosis. You may not be as lucky as I was and you may not get the reaction you expect.

“You don’t want to be supporting the person you’re telling when you still need support yourself. Remember once you have told someone you cant ‘un-tell’ them, so make sure it’s someone you trust. Wait until you have all the facts and all the answers to the questions you will be asked.”

Andrew Gamez-Heath as a child, with mother

Alison on Andrew

“When Andrew told me of his HIV diagnosis I felt every emotion in the book; terror, shock, anger and confusion about what was going to happen next,” says Alison about her son.

“How long was he going to live? Would I be able to nurse him? Would he be in pain? These were all the things that went through my brain. Since the 1980s, when there was the public education pieces on the television, I hadn’t heard much about the virus.

“In my mind HIV and AIDS were one and the same thing, something you died from!

“Andrew was calm and had obviously chosen his words wisely and very quickly, in a few minutes, told me that this was not the case and that treatment and medication had come a long way in 30 years.

“My advice for any parent finding out that their son or daughter is HIV positive is ‘don’t panic!’ That is easy to say in hindsight. I have learned so much since Andrew’s diagnosis that I will, at any opportunity, help to educate others to understand what the fairly simple treatment can do and by taking the prescribed medication the virus becomes undetectable so that it cannot be passed on to others.

“I am incredibly proud of Andrew who works for a sexual health charity and, on a daily basis, educates children and adults alike about HIV. He has had his diagnosis and knows how terrified he was, I just wish that I had been able to be with him and tell him, like mums do, that it would be all right, and it will.”

The truth about HIV

We now have the evidence to confidently say that people living with HIV and on effective treatment – like Andrew – can’t pass the virus on to anyone else.

The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on effective treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

If your HIV knowledge up-to-date? Find out more about the science behind this game-changing message.

Get your free HIV postal test. 

Simon Dunn’s five life hacks for staying in shape

15 October 2018

Simon Dunn

Photo: Thomas Knights 

Aussie Simon Dunn is one of the faces (and fingers) of our new National HIV Testing Week campaign, asking everyone to give HIV the finger and get tested, which launches this November.

Simon’s a former professional athlete and current model and personal trainer, so we asked him to share his top health tips for improving your physical, mental and – of course – sexual health.

1. Enjoy your food!

Unless you’re a professional athlete, you’re not going to want to stick to a strict diet all the time. But the simple rule for weight loss is to be in a calorie deficit, which means you burn off more calories than you take in. So, in short: enjoy that beer, you’ve earned it.

2. Get tested for STIs

Yes, more and more of us are hitting the gym for that all important leg day, but it’s important to keep a check on your sexual health too. In the same way I head to the dentist to make sure my teeth are healthy, I go to my local sexual health clinic every three months for a full screen. That’s because looking after your sexual health is as important as keeping your physical health in check.

I’ve had chlamydia before but, because I test regularly, it was found and treated really quickly.

3. Mix up your training

If you are hitting the gym, it’s important to keep things fun and vary what you do. That’s because going to the same gym every single day, doing the same workout and seeing the same old people isn’t going to keep you motivated for long. So mix it up!

One good option is to add an active recovery day to your routine and do something you enjoy whether it’s cycling, hiking or – like me – playing a team sport.

4. Self care

Instagram has been a great platform for me and I’m thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way because of social media. But it isn’t always easy and there are lots of people out there who will do anything to bring you down. I get loads of amazing comments on my photos, but I get the nasty ones too – calling me fat, calling me ugly, insulting my boyfriend.

Social media is a big part of my life, but I’ve recently implemented a no phones in the bedroom rule and it’s really helped.

5. Surround yourself with good people

This is a rule for life and fitness. I’m a personal trainer and part of my job is to bring it every session. My clients are paying for me time and I make sure I’m prepared to help them get the most out of their hour. If you’re looking for a trainer, find one who’s enthusiastic, who you gel with and who can push you beyond what you think you can do.

Get tested for HIV today!

If you’re not sure whether it’s time for your next HIV test then answer a couple of questions in our when to test quiz and find out. You can also find out where to test locally.

If you’d like to hear more from Simon, you can follow him on Instagram.

People on effective HIV treatment cannot pass it on

6 April 2018

Someone living with HIV, on treatment, with extremely low levels of the virus in their blood, cannot transmit the virus to someone else sexually, even if condoms are not used during sex.

How is this possible?

The likelihood of passing on HIV is directly linked to the amount of the virus in your blood. The lower the amount of virus in your blood, the lower the chance of it being passed on and vice versa.

When taken correctly, HIV treatment reduces the amount of virus in someone’s blood. When the virus is reduced to extremely low levels to the point where a laboratory test cannot pick it up, the virus cannot be passed on. This low level of virus in the blood is what is called an undetectable viral load. Different laboratories may have different cut-off points when classifying an undetectable viral load – however, most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies of HIV virus per millilitre.

It is important to note that a key goal of treatment is to ideally get everyone living with HIV to have an undetectable viral load. While an undetectable viral load does not mean there is no HIV present, it helps people with HIV to live long and healthy lives.

Is there any proof?

Scientists and doctors have been observing this over the last 20 years, however it is only in recent major studies that this has been officially proven through extensive research.

The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom. The PARTNER study used the definition of less than 200 copies/ml as being undetectable.

It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable.

This message has the backing of UNAIDS, Public Health England and hundreds of other leading public health experts and organisations worldwide.

OK, so what does this mean for me?

This message is so important because it helps us understand the progress that has been made on addressing HIV and to reduce stigma. Here are a few things you can do to help:

Spread the word

The more people that know about this the better the chance we have at beating HIV stigma. The great news is that in the UK, around 97% of people living with HIV who are diagnosed and are taking medication have an undetectable viral load – meaning that they can’t pass it on. This surpasses the UN global target of 90% of people on HIV medication having an undetectable viral load.

Get tested

It is important to get tested for HIV regularly as it is the only way to know for sure if you have HIV or not. If you have HIV, the earlier you find out the sooner you can access life-saving treatment and support and live a long healthy life. In most cases HIV is passed on because people are not aware they have it and the longer you live with undiagnosed HIV the more likely it is for it to seriously damage your immune system. Find out:

Take your medication

If you have HIV, it’s extremely important to continue to take your medication as prescribed by your HIV specialist to maintain an undetectable viral load. Adherence is vital so that you reap the maximum health benefits for yourself and also prevent the chance of passing it on to anyone else.

If everyone knew the facts, we could bring an end to stigma around HIV, and stop HIV transmissions altogether.

Find out all the other ways to stop HIV.