In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s National HIV Testing Week has been moved from November, when the annual event is customarily held in the UK, to Monday 1 February 2021.
Testing for HIV is free, confidential and simple – you can even do it at home. If you are diagnosed with HIV, you will be able to start treatment straight away. This will keep you healthy, and by joining forces to get everyone tested and onto treatment, the rates of people being diagnosed with HIV should continue to drop.
The Simple Science of HIV Testing
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It was identified in the early 1980s and belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses.
HIV uses your CD4 cells to reproduce, destroying them in the process. These are important cells which co-ordinate your immune system to fight off illnesses and infections.
As the number declines, you may not have enough to keep your immune system working properly. At the same time, the amount of HIV in your body (the ‘viral load’) will usually increase. Without treatment, your immune system will not be able to work properly and protect you from ‘opportunistic infections’.
Effective treatment will mean your CD4 count increases and your viral load decreases – hopefully to ‘undetectable’ levels.
The viral load test shows how much HIV is in your body by measuring how many particles of HIV are in a blood sample. The results are given as the number of ‘copies’ of HIV per millilitre of blood – for example, 200 copies/ml.
An ‘undetectable’ viral load does not mean there is no HIV present – HIV is still there but in levels too low for the laboratory test to pick up. Different laboratories may have different cut-off points when classifying an undetectable viral load; however, most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies/ml.
Modern HIV treatment means that many people with HIV are living long, healthy lives and if you’re taking HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass on the HIV virus.
HIV Prevention Checklist
- Get tested regularly – everyone with HIV needs to be on treatment so they can’t pass on the virus and can live a long, healthy life.
- Learn about PrEP so you can consider taking it if you are at risk of HIV.
- Learn about PEP so you can ask for it in an emergency.
- Use condoms if you don’t know whether someone has HIV or how infectious they are – condoms also protect against other STIs and pregnancy.
To talk to someone about HIV, testing and diagnosis in the United Kingdom, call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 from 10am-8pm Monday-Friday.
Worried about HIV?
HIV can be treated by taking antiretroviral medication. Although it cannot be cured completely, effective HIV treatment means you can live a long healthy life. Undetectable = Untransmittable, meaning you can’t pass the virus on to your sexual partners.
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