- What is HIV and how do you get it?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and it weakens your immune system by destroying healthy cells that fight infection and disease.
It is most commonly spread through unprotected vaginal or anal sex. It can also be passed on by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment, and from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
- Where can I get a test?
If you live in Hampshire, Portsmouth or Southampton you can order a free postal HIV self sample kit or a free STI self sample kit. The kit will be posted to you and once completed you post it back in prepaid envelope and wait for your results.
All sexual health clinics provide free HIV testing. You can also request a free HIV test at your GP (family doctor). If you are pregnant you will also be offered a test as part of your ante-natal care.
An HIV test is a small blood test, which looks for HIV antibodies in your blood. The antibodies are your body’s response to the virus and not the virus itself. If you have a positive test result you will have to have more tests which look at viral load (how much virus you have got in your body) and CD4 count (how many fighting cells you have got.)
If you have almost certainly been exposed to HIV you can access PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). This is a combination of drugs, which can help you to fight HIV after a risky exposure. PEP must be started as soon possible after unsafe sex and definitely within 72 hours (3 days). It has side effects, isn't guaranteed to work and involves taking anti-HIV drugs for 4 weeks, but it could stop HIV.
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Many people worry that if they have a HIV test it will affect their chances of getting travel or health insurance. This is not the case. Insurance companies can only ask about positive test results so if you have had a HIV test which came back negative insurers cannot be given this information.
If you are unsure about why you should take a HIV test or would like to talk to someone confidentially you can speak to staff from the sexual health promotion service.
If you test positive for HIV you can also get your partners tested too. Staff at the sexual health clinic will be able to help contact your partners and invite them to attend a clinic.
- What if I have a positive diagnosis?
Finding out that you have got a positive HIV diagnosis can be a very stressful and difficult time. You may have many unanswered questions in your head and you may not have understood some of the things that were said to you by the health advisor or doctor when they told you about your diagnosis. Some of the language used around HIV is quite medical and takes time to get used to.
Support services for people living with HIV
Positive Action offers support services for anyone living with HIV in Hampshire and the Surrey borders. Positive Action offers a range of support services including information and advice, massage, complimentary therapies, counselling, one to one support with a range of specialists, group sessions and drop in services. Tel: 01252 345019
The Terrance Higgins Trust provides an excellent range of information for people living with HIV from information on being newly diagnosed, managing relationships and staying healthy.
- How can I prevent infection?
Always use condoms with sexual partners to reduce risk of infection. Get tested when you have a new sexual partner or have a test every year.
If you live in Hampshire, Portsmouth or Southampton you can order free condoms online.