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HIV is a serious but manageable virus – if you get tested early, get a diagnosis and start treatment.
HIV is a significant issue in the UK. Almost 90,000 people received specialist treatment for HIV last year – a 73% increase from 20061. People with HIV lead a normal, healthy and active life as long as they receive this specialist care. However, if HIV goes undiagnosed it can progress to AIDS, which is a life-threatening illness. That’s why it’s so important to be tested if there is a chance you have been exposed to HIV.
Between 70% and 90% of people who have been infected with HIV experience acute symptoms. These symptoms typically develop between one and six weeks after being infected with HIV, and include:
- Severe flu-like symptoms
- Sore throat
- Rash on the chest2
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s vital to get tested as soon as possible. However, some people with HIV don’t have any symptoms at all, so if there is a chance you have been exposed to HIV then you should get tested even if you feel absolutely fine.
What to do if you’ve been at risk of HIV
If there’s a chance that you’ve just been exposed to HIV, you might be able to prevent infection by taking PEP (post exposure prophylaxis). You need to start PEP as soon as possible; ideally within 24 hours and no later than 72 hours after the exposure risk. The sooner you take PEP the greater the chance of it working2.
If it has been more than 72 hours since you were at risk of being infected with HIV, you should still seek medical help and get tested.
Why get tested for HIV
Getting properly tested for HIV is the only way to know for certain whether you have it.
It’s best to get tested as early as possible after you’ve been exposed or developed symptoms. You can an accurate test result from four weeks after infection. If you have HIV and the infection is diagnosed early, you can start treatment before it weakens your immune system, and you’ll be most likely to live a full and healthy life2.
Facing the reality that you might have HIV can be daunting, but it’s better to know for certain so that you can start taking control. Getting a diagnosis and starting HIV treatment also means you can avoid passing the infection on to other people.
Types of HIV testing
There are two main types of HIV test. The type of test you take will depend on how long it has been since you were at risk of infection and how quickly you want your results.
1. Full blood test
This test uses blood taken from your arm, which is sent to a lab to be analysed. You get the result 2-14 days after doing the test and the result is very accurate if carried out at least one month after infection2.
2. Rapid blood and saliva tests
This type of test uses either a finger prick or a swab of saliva taken from your mouth. You get the result 20-40 minutes after doing the test and the result is accurate if carried out at least three months after infection2.
Where to get tested
You can be tested for HIV at:
- NHS sexual health clinics, or GUM clinics
- Charity services such as the Terrence Higgins Trust
- Some GP surgeries
- Sexual health services
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337
or make an online enquiry.