HIV: Do you know your status? If not, get tested...

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HIV has NOT been cured so it’s important for people who think they may be at risk to get tested.

That’s the message HIV Scotland is keen to promote this week – HIV Testing Week – and in the run up to World AIDS Day on December 1.

The HIV testing event, from November 18 to November 25, aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland knows their status.

Across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – one in six of whom don’t know they’re living with the condition.

And the majority of new infections are passed on unknowingly by someone who has never been diagnosed.

So the most responsible thing anyone who has sex or shares needles can do is to find out their status.

To ensure that message is getting out, NHS Tayside is promoting a number of testing events in Angus and across Tayside.

Locally, the first was held on Thursday at the Tayside Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic in Abbey Health Centre, Arbroath.

Another will be held at the same clinic on Thursday, December 1 – World AIDS Day – from 1.30pm to 4pm.

Dr Sarah Allstaff, lead clinician for sexual health at NHS Tayside, explained why it is so important for people to know their status.

She said: “Across Scotland, there are an estimated 6150 people living with HIV, one in six of whom are unaware of their infection.

“Today, we have highly effective treatment for HIV, which not only keeps people well but means that individuals on treatment are highly unlikely to transmit the infection to others.

“The majority of new infections in Scotland today are linked to individuals who don’t know they have the virus.

“NHS Tayside is supporting HIV Testing Week, from November 18 to November 25, because we want to increase awareness of HIV testing, highlight how and where you can get tested, and encourage people to test regularly.”

There are many ways you can access HIV testing – through sexual health clinics, GP surgeries, in community testing venues across Tayside and by accessing self-testing kits.

“Having an HIV test has never been easier,” added Dr Allstaff. “Knowledge is power.

“There is only one way to know your HIV status and that is to have a test.

“Knowing that you are HIV negative can empower you to remain HIV negative, while knowing that you are HIV positive allows you to access care which will keep you well.”

Most HIV tests involve taking a small sample of blood – either from a finger prick or your arm – and some can return results while you wait. Testing is confidential and convenient.

And it helps put you in control, even if the results are positive.

For HIV can now be managed well with treatment which reduces the likelihood of passing on the virus and allows you to live a long, healthy life.

Perhaps most importantly though, being tested could help put an end to HIV once and for all.

An HIV Scotland spokeswoman explained: “The majority of new infections are passed on by people who unknowingly did so – because they didn’t know their status.

“By testing regularly, people can help to reduce the number of new infections recorded in Scotland.

“That’s why it’s so imporant for people to know their status and to get tested this HIV Testing Week.”

Remember, a positive test result is no longer the death sentence it once was.

In fact, the earlier anti-retrovirals are used to treat HIV, the better and a person living with HIV can expect to live a long, healthy life.

Taken as prescribed, the medication helps reduce the amount of HIV in your blood – viral load – to the point where it is undetectable and the risks of passing on the virus are dramatically reduced.

* If you believe you have been at risk of HIV in the last day or so, you can use PEP – Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.

The sooner you take PEP the more effective it is – preferably within the first 24 hours but certainly no longer than 72 hours after exposure.

It is available from sexual health clinics and hospital emergency departments and must be taken for 28 days.

However, it doesn’t have a 100 per cent success rate.

Condoms, lubricant and not sharing needles are still the best ways to protect yourself from HIV.

HIV: THE FACTS

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

HIV can affect anyone who has unprotected sex or shares drug injecting equipment – so anyone who has been at risk should get tested.

But stigma and fear surrounding HIV can put people off getting a test 
which, in turn, can result in new infections.

There are a lot of myths surrounding HIV which only help to stigmatise the disease even further.

HIV cannot be passed on through kissing, hugging or shaking hands.

And HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was – with treatment, it can be managed and someone living with HIV can lead a healthy life.

As of June 30, 2016 there were 5151 people diagnosed with HIV living in Scotland.

A further 17 per cent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it.

So across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – around one in six of whom don’t know they are infected.

Every day in Scotland, someone learns they are living with HIV – the numbers of new diagnosed infections has remained around the same for the last ten years.

In 2015 there were 361 new diagnoses.

Some 93 per cent of people living with HIV are already on treatment and of those on treatment 94 per cent are undetectable – meaning they cannot pass the virus on.

In NHS Tayside, which has a population of around 412,000, 387 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – and 332 were receiving treatment.

Of these cases, nine were newly-diagnosed in 2016.

HIV tests are routinely available at GP surgeries and sexual health clinics in Angus.