Who wants to get HIV and die quickly? Many of us have that thought in our heads, maybe from what we’ve seen on TV or maybe from our own experiences. That sadly used to be the reality for many people, but it’s not that way now.
Dr Amos said: ‘Treatments used mean people living with HIV live long and healthy lives because the virus is controlled and its effects on someone’s health are limited. The treatment also brings the level of virus in the body of someone living with HIV down to such low levels that it can’t be detected by HIV tests – and this also means that it can’t be passed on to someone’s sexual partners, whether they use condoms or not.
‘Testing for HIV and knowing your HIV status, whether you are HIV positive or HIV negative, gives you control over your health.
‘If you are HIV negative, you can continue to use protective measures like condoms and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to stay negative.
‘If you are HIV positive, you can go onto treatments that will keep you healthy and able to lead a long healthy life, and usually within 6 months or less the virus will be at a level where it can’t be passed onto anyone else. The longer you are undiagnosed, the more time it is likely to take to bring the infection under control and down to levels where it can’t be passed on, sometimes up to 18 months.’
One of the most crucial things to know is that the longer you are HIV positive, untested and untreated, the more impact it will have on your health. People who are unaware they are living with HIV and are diagnosed ‘late’ are more likely to die earlier than people who have tested earlier in their infection and have gone onto treatment.
Not testing doesn’t mean you aren’t HIV positive, it just means you don’t know what your HIV status is, whether that is positive or negative. It also means you can’t make informed decisions about what to do with the information. Ignorance isn’t good for anyone.
We know that new HIV cases are linked to people who don’t know they are HIV positive because they haven’t tested, or have tested before the test can identify they have it.
It’s recommended that everyone test at least once in their lives. People who are part of communities more affected by HIV need to test with more frequency, as there is an increased likelihood you will have come into contact with virus.
Don’t let your fear of being ill lead to you actually being ill. If you have any worries or concerns about testing there are people you can talk to. They can also help you make sure the protective measures you are using work well for you or if there are alternative methods, such as PrEP, that may work better for you.
Everyone should test at least once in their lives. It’s sensible to test at the start of any new relationships you have.
If you have multiple partners in a year, whoever you sleep with, it’s recommended to test yearly, or better still every three months if you are man having sex with other men.
Testing is free, confidential and easy, whether you use a sexual health clinic, a GP or prefer the convenience of an ‘at home’ test kit.