If you are concerned about HIV you should be tested as soon as possible. During HIV Testing week there will be several additional testing venues as well as regular clinics where you can get tested in a matter of minutes.
Ways to reduce your risk of HIV include:
Use a condom: Protect yourself from HIV and other STIs. This barrier method prevents contact with semen, vaginal secretions, and blood which will stop HIV from being passed on. When using condoms be sure to use water-based lube as oil-based lube weakens them.
Regular testing: Testing regularly for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is recommended for anyone sexually active – particularly if you are having unprotected sex. Even if you don’t think you have put yourself at risk of the HIV, remember that signs of HIV don’t show up right away and it can take up to 4 weeks or even longer. You can get tested at a sexual health clinic, your local GP, or order tests online, with free and paid-for options.
PrEP: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug taken by HIV-Negative people before sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. It works by blocking HIV before it enters the body and has the chance to infect you. Find out more information about PrEP and where to get it on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
PEP: Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a combination of HIV drugs that can stop the infection after the virus enters the body. This treatment must be taken within 72 hours of HIV exposure but is not guaranteed to work. If you need PEP over the weekend or outside of clinic times then please go to your nearest A&E. Learn more about PEP here.
Safe needles: Sharing needles, syringes and other equipment for injecting drugs or steroids can expose you to HIV infected. Avoid this risk by seeking support from your local drugs and alcohol service and ask for their needle exchange.
Effective treatment: For people living with HIV, effective treatment reduces the level of virus in the blood to undetectable levels; also known as an ‘undetectable viral load’. People with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV to their partners – an important piece of information which can help to reduce stigma around HIV. Remember – undetectable means untransmittable (U=U).
More information about HIV, testing, treatment, symptoms, living with HIV and support can be found on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
HIV can be found in people who are fit and well, as symptoms can take years to develop. Without treatment HIV will eventually lead to AIDS which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. At this point, several potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses develop due to the immune system being severely damaged by the HIV virus.
MYTH: HIV does not affect heterosexuals
People who are at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV include:
MYTH: I’m HIV Positive – my life is over!
This is a myth. In a 2014 poll by the charity, the National AIDS Trust, only around 1 in 8 people realise you can have a normal lifespan living with HIV whilst on treatment.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and active life.
MYTH: If I have HIV, it means I will get AIDS
This is a myth. AIDS Stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a later stage of the HIV infection, during this time someone who has the HIV virus may develop frequently fatal infections and cancers.
However, if diagnosed early enough, a person with HIV can benefit from treatment which will help them to live a long and healthy life. Our team can arrange a HIV test for you – just call one of our clinics to find out more. (Link to clinics page)
MYTH: HIV is highly contagious.
The virus does not spread through the air like cold and flu viruses.
In the UK, most cases of HIV are caused by having sex without a condom with a person who has HIV.
A person with HIV can pass the virus to others whether or not they have any symptoms. People with HIV are more infectious in the weeks immediately following infection and in the later stages of the disease.
HIV treatment significantly reduces the risk of someone with HIV passing it on.
MYTH: HIV is only passed on via contact with infected blood.
This is a myth. If someone with HIV has a detectable viral load and therefore isn’t on HIV treatment, they can pass on HIV through the following body fluids:
MYTH: A woman with HIV will pass on HIV to her unborn baby
This is a myth. It’s possible for people living with HIV to conceive a child with an HIV negative partner without transmission occurring. In the UK less than 1 in 100 babies born to people living with HIV during their pregnancy acquire the infection, due to treatment during pregnancy and avoiding breastfeeding.
If you’re living with HIV and could get pregnant, your clinic will support you with your reproductive health choices and with the pregnancy and birth if you decide to have children.
MYTH: You can tell if someone has HIV by looking at them.
This is a myth. The only way to know if you have HIV is to have a test. Our team can arrange a test for you. Find your nearest clinic here
Sexual activities that involve contact with body fluids (semen, pre-cum vaginal fluid, or blood) put you at risk of catching HIV and other STIs. HIV is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
Anal Sex: This is the riskiest sexual behaviour for getting and transmitting HIV for men and women. The virus is carried in semen, pre-cum and blood which can affect either partner who is giving or receiving anal sex. The lining of the rectum is thin and small cuts, scratches or open sores on the penis or around the rectum may allow HIV to enter the body this way during anal sex.
Vaginal Sex: Men with a detectable viral load carry the HIV virus in their semen. If during unprotected sex this semen gets into the body of a sexual partner, then HIV can be passed on into the other partners bloodstream. For women who have HIV, one of the bodily fluids where the virus is found is in vaginal fluid. HIV can be transmitted to a male if these vaginal fluids encounter his penis. The foreskin or delicate skin around the penis is where the virus can enter.
Oral Sex: Transmission would be a risk if an HIV-positive man ejaculates in his partner’s mouth during oral sex. However, the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex is much lower than anal or vaginal sex. Use condoms and/or dental dams during oral sex to protect you from HIV and other STIs.
If you are having unprotected sex then you should be getting regularly tested for HIV and other more commonly known STIs such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Syphilis. Putting yourself at risk can seriously damage your long-term health. Find your nearest clinic and visit our drop-in services or make an appointment to be tested.
In the UK, more than 9 out of 10 newly diagnosed people have acquired HIV through sexual transmission. Anyone can acquire HIV. You don’t need to have lots of sexual partners to put yourself at risk. However, frequent unprotected sex will increase your chances of getting HIV and other STIs.
Apps: Technology is making it easier to meet people and therefore easier to make casual arrangements with someone you don’t know much about. If you have regular casual, unprotected sex with people you met on apps, make sure you are frequently tested for HIV and other STIs. Taking condoms with you next time would reduce your risk!
Holidays: Unprotected sex with people from outside of the UK puts you at risk of HIV. This is due to some countries not having the same standard of healthcare, education or resources as the UK. Ensure you book an appointment for a full sexual health check after sexual contact overseas.
Bars/clubs: It’s not unusual to meet people on a night out whilst drinking alcohol. However, alcohol can often lead to sexual situations that don’t involve condoms or aren’t exactly as you planned. When meeting someone new you don’t immediately know their sexual health history and can’t tell if they have HIV just by looking at them. You could be exposed to STIs and HIV without even knowing it.
Sex workers: If you pay for sex or are paid for sex which doesn’t include the use a condom, then you are at risk of HIV and other STIs. Please test regularly to protect your sexual health.
Injecting ANY substance using a shared needle or syringe puts you at risk of HIV and other blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C.
When someone injects themselves, tiny traces of blood go back into the needle and syringe. This makes it possible for the HIV virus to be passed between users sharing needles. Therefore, if a person uses the same drug injecting equipment as a person with detectable HIV, then they are at risk of putting HIV infected blood directly into their bloodstream.
It doesn’t matter which drug is in the syringe when it comes to sharing injecting equipment. Whether a person is injecting heroin, tranquillisers, amphetamine or even steroids, they all carry the same HIV transmission risk. Visit Drug Wise for more information.
Using shared needles: When using an infected needle, HIV can get into the bloodstream through injecting into a vein, injecting into the fat under the skin and injecting directly into muscle. Sterilising equipment and using new needles can help reduce the risk of HIV amongst drug users.
Details on drug use support services by Spectrum can be found here.
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Did you know? In 2020, the Nursing Times’ Florence Nightingale ‘Nurse of the Year’ was a Spectrum nurse. Read Helen’s story: http://bit.ly/3uDdt3U
In 2011, Spectrum’s Chief Executive (Dr Linda Harris) founded Spectrum with the aim of tackling health inequality and providing support for vulnerable people. Find out more about what we do: http://bit.ly/10YearsCIC
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