HIV has been with most of us for most of our lives. For some, it is a way of life. HIV, how we treat it, our attitudes towards it and our views on what is ‘safer’ have all changed and evolved. As HIV gradually becomes a manageable disease, with fewer people dying, the battle is still far from over. With ART at the forefront of the battle, prevention techniques have also changed including the introduction of PrEP. We summarise where we are with HIV in 2017.
Ways To Prevent HIV.
Recent studies have shown that people with diagnosed HIV, on medical treatment with an “undetectable viral load”, cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners.
- The likelihood of passing on HIV is linked to how much virus someone has in their blood.
- HIV medication – usually one or two pills per day – significantly reduces the level of HIV in a person’s bloodstream.
- Most people on medication achieve an “undetectable viral load” which means they cannot pass the virus on.
- Undetectable does not mean cured: the virus is still present in the bloodstream. But being undetectable means being uninfectious to other people.
THE TWIST: It now seems unprotected sex with someone on medication and undetectable is safer than someone who “doesn’t know their HIV status” or is “HIV and NOT on medication”. Not knowing is not an excuse. Get tested.
Be on PREP
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):
- PrEP is a pill that can prevent you from getting HIV
- Taking PrEP can involve either taking one pill per day or what is called “event based dosing” (which means taking pills before and after condomless sex)
- PrEP is very effective if you take it as directed
- PrEP is for people who are HIV negative and are at risk of infection
- Before you start using PrEP it is essential you have a confirmed HIV-negative test
- Taking PrEP means having regular HIV and STI tests (every 3 months)
- Many people buy PrEP online but it will soon be available for free as part of the NHS’s PrEP IMPACT trial
THE TWIST: If everyone who has HIV was on meds and undetectable, and those who are HIV negative and on PREP…HIV would no longer spread. Of course, that is the idealistic view, but we are all allowed one Christmas wish. Self-responsibility is the key. It does not matter what the other person says about their HIV status, it only takes one person to protect themselves, make sure that person is you!
Old fashioned. And old faithful. The most effective way to protect yourself against STIs & HIV.
Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been rising in London for a number of years. Therefore regular screening for STIs, including HIV, is important, especially after sex with new or casual partners.
You can protect yourself against STIs, including HIV, by using a condom during sex. Condoms will also help prevent you passing on an infection if you have one. Before deciding to stop using condoms, you and your partner should be tested for STIs and HIV.
You can find further information on sexual health and where to find your local sexual health clinic through the NHS website.
THE TWIST: ALthough being undetectable and on PrEP will see the decline in the spread of HIV, the opposite has occurred for other sexual diseases which are on the increase.
IGNORANCE IS NO LONGER BLISS when it comes to HIV. Many people live a normal life with HIV and on medication. In fact, not knowing your HIV status and compromising your immune system with an HIV infection can cause more damage to you long term, and it also means you are more likely to pass the virus onto someone else. Knowing your HIV status can empower you to make decisions about treatment and safer sex choices.
It is important to get tested regularly for HIV if you are sexually active and when you change sexual partners. HIV often has no symptoms. Testing is the only way to be sure of your HIV status.
Getting tested for HIV means that, if you are infected with the virus, you can receive HIV treatment and care before the infection damages your health. It also means you will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to your partner.
HIV is passed on through bodily fluids (such as semen, vaginal fluid and blood).
Condoms also protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
Getting an HIV test
Getting tested for HIV is quick, easy and confidential.
There are now many more options to get tested than ever before – these include testing at home, at your GP or at a clinic.
- Do it at home by ordering a self-sampling kit through the national HIV self-sampling service.
- Do it at one of London’s sexual health clinics.
- Do it yourself for free using a free self-testing kit (as part of the SELPHI study).
- Do it yourself for free by choosing either a self-testing kit or a self-sampling kit (as part of the SH:24 UK-wide HIV testing survey).
- Do it at home by purchasing a home-testing kit.
- Do it at your GP surgery – simply ask your doctor or practice nurse.
- Do it at some pharmacies in the capital too.
All information from doitlondon.org