Up to a third of people infected with HIV in the UK are unaware that they were infected as they have not had a HIV test since they were transmitted the HIV virus. Although there is currently no cure for HIV, there are now many treatments that can help to slow the progression of the virus.
With the modern treatments available in the UK, having HIV should not be seen as a “death sentence” and most infected people can expect to live a reasonably “normal” life provided they are diagnosed (ie HIV test) early in the course of their infection.
If an infected person leaves it too late to have an HIV test, their life expectancy is likely to be shorter, they may suffer more illnesses, and treatments may not be as successful.
One of the most important aspects of our work is encouraging and offering HIV tests and providing support and treatment to those who test positive. The prospect of taking an HIV test can be very daunting, but our staff are always on hand to offer counselling and support.
If you feel you have been at risk of HIV (see HIV transmission) please book an HIV test at one of our sexual health clinics. If you feel you are regularly at risk from being infected with HIV, you are advised to attend regular HIV tests accordingly and it may be advisable to have a chat with one of our Health Advisers to discuss ways in which we can help you to reduce your ongoing risk.
Having an HIV test
To have an HIV test we need a small sample of blood, taken either from your arm or via a finger prick. The result for the blood test from the arm takes seven working days whereas the finger prick test result is provided to you within minutes on the day you attend.
When a person contracts HIV, their immune system will create special antibodies to try to fight the infection. Most HIV tests look for the presence of these antibodies in the blood. If antibodies are detected, another test is performed to confirm the result before the person is informed that they are HIV+.
It can take up to three months for HIV antibodies to be present in the blood in sufficient numbers to be detected. This means that the antibody test can be negative, even when the person has been infected if it has been less than three months since their last exposure (for example, unprotected sex). To rule out being infected with HIV you should test at least three months from the last time you were at risk.
Some HIV tests look for the p24 antigen in addition to HIV antibodies. P24 antigen is a HIV protein present in large quantities in people who have been recently infected and can be detected in the blood sooner than HIV antibodies. If you have been at risk of acquiring HIV in the last three months you will be offered the more sensitive antigen/antibody test.
All of our sexual health clinics provide HIV tests, some on a walk-in basis (ie no appointment needed) and others by appointment. Counselling both before and after the HIV test is available from trained professionals. We can also provide Information on HIV transmission and treatment of the disease.