National HIV Testing Week starts on Monday 5 February, and is a campaign promoting regular testing in England, particularly among groups most affected by HIV, including gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and heterosexuals of Black African ethnicity. Regular testing helps to reduce the number of people living with undiagnosed HIV and those diagnosed late.
HIV important facts:
- In the UK, HIV is most commonly spread through vaginal or anal sex without a condom. It can also be spread by sharing drug injecting equipment, sharing sex toys, mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, and coming into contact with contaminated blood.
- HIV cannot be passed on by kissing, hugging, shaking hands, sharing space with someone, sharing a toilet, sharing household items or any other general social contact.
- HIV is prevented by testing regularly, wearing condoms during sex, using HIV prevention medicines such as PrEP, and becoming undetectable through treatment.
Why is it important to test for HIV?
It’s a good idea to test at least once a year, because testing is the only way to know if you have HIV. Some people don’t notice any symptoms at all. If you wait to test, the virus could do a lot of damage.
Testing is quick, free, and confidential. It’s also an easy way to take responsibility for your health. If you have HIV, finding out means you can start treatment, stay healthy and avoid passing the virus onto anyone else. The sooner you start treatment, the less likely you are to become seriously ill. People who are diagnosed early and get on treatment can expect to live a normal lifespan.
How can I test for HIV?
It’s never been easier to get an HIV test and to get a result quickly. Our sexual health services provide free self-testing kits for people aged 16+, which can test for HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re easy to order online, visit our Online Testing page to find a link for free testing kits where you live. During HIV Testing Week, you can also order a testing kit for HIV at www.freetesting.hiv; where you have the option of a rapid test too, which gives results in minutes.
If you’re under 16, if you have symptoms or you’re worried about your sexual health, visit your nearest sexual health clinic for a test.
When should I test?
Signs of HIV infection don’t show up in the blood right away. It normally happens within four weeks of infection, but can be longer. If you think you might have been exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours (three days), it’s possible to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to help stop an infection from happening.
If your risk was recent, you might be advised to take a test immediately, followed by a second one a few weeks later. A self test is not guaranteed to pick up an infection that’s occurred in the previous three months. If you think you’ve been exposed in the last three months, you should get a test at your local sexual health clinic.
What if my test is positive?
If your test comes back positive, your local sexual health team (or online testing provider) will get in touch and talk things through with you. You will be referred to your local HIV Treatment and Care Team, who can provide support and will discuss your treatment options. All HIV treatment is free in the UK.
It’s important to know that HIV is a manageable condition and someone with HIV on active treatment can live a long and healthy life. In fact, treatment is so good now, that someone who is taking HIV treatment reliably can have such low levels of the virus in their body that they can’t pass it on.
There is a lot of information and support available for people who test positive. Find out more on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.