Less is not more when it comes to testing.

Getting tested for HIV can be a daunting experience, particularly for gay men who are still coping with the trauma of the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic and years of inadequate government responses. Sadly, despite significant advancements in testing capabilities and medical treatments that have made it entirely possible to live a long life with HIV, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding HIV.

However, thanks to medications such as PrEP, you can now be proactive in protecting yourself from HIV before having sex. Regular HIV testing is still crucial for your health and the health of your community, even if you’re taking PrEP or practising safe sex.

How many people in the UK are living with HIV?

As of the end of 2020, an estimated 107,800 people were living with HIV in the UK, according to Public Health England. Of those, approximately 7,400 people were unaware of their HIV-positive status. While the number of people living with HIV in the UK has been increasing over the years, the overall rate of new diagnoses has been declining due to increased testing, prevention efforts, and the availability of antiretroviral therapy.

Remaining up-to-date on your HIV status is essential for better understanding yourself and communicating openly with your partners. If you’re considering getting tested for HIV, this guide is here to help answer some of your questions, such as who should get tested, how often you should get tested, what questions to ask your medical provider, what to expect before getting tested, how to protect yourself from HIV, and what to do if you’ve been exposed to HIV.

Anyone who feels they may be at risk of contracting HIV, not just the men who have sex with men (MSM) community, should get tested. HIV can be transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids or blood. Those at the highest risk of contracting the virus include individuals who have recently had unprotected sex, shared needles during intravenous drug use, or come into contact with the open wound of an HIV-positive person.

So how often should you get tested?

How often someone should get tested for HIV depends on their individual risk factors and sexual activity. As a general guideline, those who are sexually active should get tested yearly. However, those who are at higher risk, such as sexually active gay and bisexual men, should get tested every 3 to 6 months.

Other factors that may warrant more frequent testing include having multiple sex partners since your last HIV test, sharing needles or other drug injection equipment, exchanging sex for drugs or money, or being diagnosed with another sexually transmitted disease. It’s important to note that regular testing is not just a one-time thing, as your HIV status can change over time. Additionally, those who are HIV-positive should work with their doctor to determine a regular testing schedule to monitor their viral load.

The NHS says that “sexually active gay men and bisexual men” should get tested every 3 to 6 months. The rest of the population should get tested yearly, especially if they meet the following criteria:

  • You’re a man who has had sex with another man
  • You’ve had anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV You’ve had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test
  • You’ve shared needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment (for example, cookers)
  • You’ve exchanged sex for drugs or money
  • You’ve been diagnosed with or treated for another sexually transmitted disease
  • You’ve been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)
  • You’ve had sex with someone who has done anything listed above or with someone whose sexual history you don’t know

How much do HIV tests cost in the UK?

HIV testing is free in the UK and can be done through a variety of channels including sexual health clinics, general practitioners, and some community organizations. Additionally, home testing kits are available for purchase online or at some pharmacies, and the cost can range from around £15 to £30. However, it’s important to note that free testing is widely available, and individuals are encouraged to get tested regularly regardless of their ability to pay.

What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and weakens the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off infections and diseases. HIV targets specific cells in the immune system called CD4 cells, which are important for fighting infections. As HIV replicates and damages these cells, the immune system becomes increasingly weaker, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections and illnesses.

Over time, if left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a condition that occurs when the immune system is severely damaged, and the body is unable to fight off infections and illnesses. However, with early diagnosis and effective treatment, many people with HIV can live long and healthy lives without developing AIDS.

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HIV is most commonly spread through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person, sharing needles or injection equipment with someone who is infected, and from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact such as hugging, shaking hands, or sharing food or drinks.

Are there preventative treatment options for HIV?

There are several treatment options available to prevent the transmission of HIV. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting HIV and is often offered for free through sexual health clinics. If you are interested in finding a PrEP provider, you can visit https://www.iwantprepnow.co.uk.

Additionally, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is available for those who may have been exposed to HIV. It is important to note that PrEP and PEP are proactive measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, and it is essential to have open conversations with partners about HIV status and to engage in regular testing to protect both yourself and your community.

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