Monday, 24 November 2014

National HIV Testing Week 2014

When it comes to my health, I am very much in the camp of "I'll probably be fine." I think this stems from growing up with a nurse for a mother, but I could literally be choking and in between gasping for air I would reassure you about how fine I was. This, it turns out, is not the best attitude to have about your health - and seeing as I took to twitter this week to advocate that more people should be talking about sex and sexual health, when I saw it was National HIV Testing Week, I thought this was the perfect time to make sure that me, and those around me, were taking their sexual health more seriously. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus,is a virus transmitted through the transferal of bodily fluids that targets and weakens the immune system.

National HIV Testing Banner

Although, as I'm sure many of us aware, some UK groups have a higher proportion of people living with HIV (for instance the groups most affected at the moment include prisoners, gay or bisexual men, Black African or Black Caribbean men and women and injecting drug users) absolutely anyone can become infected by HIV. As a bisexual woman, my chances of contracting the disease are fairly low, however - it's not impossible, especially if I am or have been practicing unsafe sex. According to Public Health Statistics significantly fewer people were able to correctly identify the ways in which HIV could be transmitted in 2007 than were able to seven years earlier - and I personally find that pretty alarming (for the record it is passed through bodily fluids, but not usually saliva as the concentration isn't high enough, through sharing needles or sometimes through needle stick injuries and it can be passed from parent to child). Especially as, according to the very same set of statistics around 26,000 people are thought to be living in the UK with HIV which has yet to be diagnosed, combine this with the fact that (according to various sources, although it seems to be impossible to track down actual statistics) young people seem to be having more unprotected sex, and contraceptive methods other than condoms are ever on the rise, the fact is that all of us should be more aware of sexual health, HIV or otherwise.

It is suggested that you should be tested for STIs around once every year, or whenever you start a relationship with a new partner - but amongst my own friends I can confirm that the amount of times we've been tested between us we can probably count on one pair of hands, so not even nearly enough, and I'd be willing to bet a large proportion of my life savings on the fact that we're not the only ones. HIV is no longer a death sentence, people live a lot longer with HIV than ever before (only 1% of those with HIV died from the disease in 2013, according to - once again - Public Health Statistics) but the prognosis can often be better if a person is diagnosed during early diagnosis whilst they remain well overall. Over half of adults diagnosed in 2009 were diagnosed late and although treatment will still work, this means the immune system is able to be weakened further before treatment begins. Thanks to advances in medicine, women with HIV can now also undergo treatment during pregnancy to dramatically lower the risk of her unborn child developing HIV, and it is also possible for men living with HIV to undergo sperm washing to enable a healthy foetus.

You can be tested at your GP, through a Gum clinic or through some other services which are listed on the NHS website.  If you are African and/or a gay or bisexual man you can actually use fastest direct, a test that comes through the post and is done at home which can then be sent back and the results received by phone - it is also completely free of charge and comes in an unmarked envelope. Although HIV shows symptoms 2-6 weeks after it is contracted in around 80% of people (often flu-like including a sore throat, fever and rash) these often go away and no further symptoms are present until much further down the line, so it's important to be tested even if you feel fine. If you are at all worried about having been in a position where you may be at risk of HIV or any other sexually transmitted disease, or you've had unprotected sex with a partner that you haven't been tested with; please, please go and get tested - I know that I will be. Also, as ever, the only way of protecting yourself from STIs is to always use a condom - widely available for free from sexual health clinics, GP's and brook clinics - and worth their weight in gold.

National HIV Testing Week 2014 - It Starts With Us. Will you be getting tested?

Sammy xo.

All statistics and facts on this page came from the NHS website, the THT website or the NAT website, but please do correct me if you find them to be wrong.

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