Category Archives: Testing
As many of you who have been following my writings for some time now will know, I have frequently lambasted the UK Government, Department of Health and Health Protection Agency for failing to take any decisive action to curb the rising rate of HIV infections in the UK.
In recent years there’ve been numerous repetitive campaigns about cancer, stroke, mental health, alcohol, drugs, fruit & veg, exercise – even barbequed food, but nothing about HIV since the late 1980s. Well that changes this month.
24th April 2013 marks the launch of ‘It Starts With Me‘, a campaign created by The Terrence Higgins Trust and funded by HIV Prevention England (HPE), via the Department of Health, a campaign that will run (at least initially) for two years – until April 2015.
‘It Starts With Me’ is a campaign that will be delivered online, via the press, via posters/condom packs in venues and via local outreach teams. HPE will funding national and regional organisations to promote the campaign up and down England.
The campaign focuses on:
- Testing for HIV at least once every twelve months, and more frequently if they have taken a risk, or show symptoms of seroconversion illness.
- Taking the medication they need to stay fit and well, if they have been diagnosed with HIV.
- Protecting themselves during sex by using condoms and finding other ways to avoid risk.
- Participating in community action by finding a way to support the campaign and spread the word to their friends and contacts.
Make sure to check out www.startswithme.org.uk, the website for the campaign, and watch the short introductory video, which includes many interesting facts like 1 in 4 people in the UK with HIV don’t know that they have the virus, and that treatment is easier than ever and dramatically reduces the risk of you passing the virus onto anyone else.
It Starts With Me.
On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.
It’s been a little while since I was a student, six years ago to be precise (oh I feel old), but I was honoured to be invited down to this year’s Student Pride 2013.
For a lot of attendees Student Pride will be the first ‘Pride’ event that they ever go to, so it’s important that the organisers get the weekend right, and that they have done.
There are multiple events, with a little something for everyone. For those that are old enough there are clubbing nights, with special performances from the likes of X-Factor’s Lucy Spraggan, Class A and Capital FM’s James Barr. During the day there are job fairs, theatre productions, live music and debates.
There will also be sexual health advice and FREE rapid HIV testing available courtesy the good people from ’56 Dean Street’. Make sure to stop by and check your status, it only takes a few minutes and could save your life and the lives of anyone you play with.
Student Pride 2013 runs from 1st – 3rd March 2013 in Brighton on the South Coast of England. If you’re a student and 16 years ago or more you can GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!
See you there!
Just a quick note to let you know that the March 2013 issue of ATTITUDE Magazine is out now, and wow is it a tasty one! This month is is ATTITUDE’s famed ‘Naked Issue’ – featuring toned torsos and buttocks from the likes of Shayne Ward and Colin Gentry.
But fear not dear reader it’s not all style and no substance, this Naked Issue ATTITUDE have teamed up with NAT (National AIDS Trust) to talk about safer sex, condom use, HIV and the importance of getting tested – a must read.
Oh, and don’t forget my column – this month I talk about how I’m having ups and downs with my medication but how I remain thankful that it’s now, and not 30 years ago. Find out why…
Lots of love,
It’s 12:59 and I’m sat in the waiting room at the GUM (Sexual Health) clinic for my six-monthly check up. Thing is this isn’t just any GUM clinic however, this is the clinic that I was given my HIV diagnosis at nearly a year and a half ago. I haven’t been back since, until today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been getting checked out every six months (not that I’ve had any sex worth a damn to really warrant it), but I’ve made a point of going to other clinics to avoid having to come back here. But today, the day I’d set aside to do some Christmas shopping and get my end of year STI tests done, this was the only clinic that had free slots.
The waiting room is the same as it ever was, grey and clean, clinically clean – the same bleach smell is stinging my nose, just as it did at 9:00am on the 4th August 2011. Repeats of Top Gear are playing on the TV. The memories of being sat out here nervously awaiting to be called into that small room are coming flooding back. The same feeling of anxiety is sweeping over me – but this time for no real reason, I’m only here for a general check-up.
Calm down Sam. Calm down.
14:54 nearly two hours later and I’m done. 75% of that was sat around in the waiting room, apparently they were working very unstaffed today. That couldn’t be helped.
I’ve been prodded, up top, down below and round the back. I’ve had blood and urine taken, such fun. Almost knee’d the poor nurse in the face as she did the penile swab – NOT FUN.
I’ll get results via text message in a week, not expecting anything out of the ordinary, I mean I’ve barely had any sex at all for months now. MONTHS. But better to be safe than sorry as they say. I was so glad to get out of there though, I just don’t like what time period of my life that clinic waiting room represents. No comment on the staff at all though, lovely people.
When were you last tested? Was it too long ago? Maybe you should make it a new year’s resolution? After all – what’s a little time out of your day for peace of mind?
Here’s to peace of mind, or what little mind I’ve got left!
Hello? Is this thing on? Good…
Today I’m talking about Gonorrhea, I’m sure you’ve all heard about it at some point or other, it’s commonly known as “the clap”.
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that should be taken seriously.
First up let’s look at the symptoms, (I hope you’ve not just eaten):
- A white-ish/green-ish discharge from your penis and/or arse
- Anal discomfort
- A burning sensation when you pee
- Inflamed foreskin
- Painful testicles and/or prostate gland
- A white-ish/green-ish thick discharge from your vagina and/or arse
- Anal discomfort
- A burning sensation when you pee
- Painful abdominal region
- Bleeding between periods
But just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have it, 10% of men and 50% of women are asymptomatic (show no symptoms at all).
How is Gonorrhea passed on?
- Unprotected anal or vaginal fucking
- Unprotected oral sex (including rimming, and going down on a girl)
- Sharing sex toys (without washing thoroughly or using a fresh condom each time)
- Fingering multiple partners (without washing thoroughly between each)
What happens if I don’t get it treated?
- In girls it can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Which can lead to fever, vomiting, abscesses and infertility amongst other things.
- In guys it can lead to a very serious and painful infection of the testicles.
How do I get tested?
- The most common methods of testing are a penile/anal/vaginal swab. A urine sample may also be taken.
What’s the treatment?
- Unlike most bacterial infections which are treated with oral antibiotics in the form of pills, Gonorrhea is treated by an injection of strong antibiotics directly into one of your ass cheeks.
Hopefully you’re all sensible people out there and going for routine STI screenings at your local GUM or Sexual Health Clinic, but if you haven’t been for a while maybe it’s time you popped down and got checked out. After all it’s not just Gonorrhea that’s out there is it? Don’t forget about chlamydia, LGV, syphilis, hepatitis (A, B and C) and of course HIV. If any of your results come back positive don’t forget to inform any recent sexual partners, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this most clinics will offer to do this for you anonymously.
Your health is in your hands, but you can only look after yourself if you know all the facts. If you need to find a clinic near you check out: www.tht.org.uk/sexual-health/Service-finder
Have a great weekend,
Currently 100,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV in the UK, but an estimated 25% of those are undiagnosed.
That’s 25,000 people who have HIV and don’t know about it! As we come to the end of HIV Testing Week in the UK and approach World AIDS Day 2012 I put some of your questions about getting tested and HIV to Dr Sebastian Winckler from DrEd.
1. Why is it so important to get tested for HIV?
Early testing is vital both for you, and for the people you’re sleeping with.
If you’ve got HIV and you’re getting treatment you can expect to live 40 years longer than someone who isn’t receiving treatment.
If you’re taking antiretroviral medication, you become less infectious to other people. Being aware of your status means you can start putting certain measure in place (such as safe sex)
to prevent transmission, as well as looking after your own health.
2. What stops some people from getting tested?
There are a lots of reasons why people avoid HIV tests, but usually it’s down to:
- The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDs: Despite advancements in treatment, in some communities there is still stigma about being HIV+, so many people feel embarrassed about getting tested. Remember, there is no shame in being HIV+.
- The inconvenience of testing: If you work during the day, it can be hard work finding the time to go.
- Fear: Some people are simply scared off getting a result they don’t want to hear. Remember though, it’s better to get tested and treated rather than making yourself, or others, ill.
3. Where can I get tested?
HIV tests are available free and confidentially from:
- Sexual health (GUM) clinics
- HIV testing centres (Terrence Higgins Trust Fastest centres, for example)
- LGBT Centres
- GP’s and family doctors
- HIV tests are available to buy from:
- Private clinics
- Online doctors services
4. I haven’t had any symptoms, so I probably don’t have HIV, right?
Wrong. Most people will experience a short, flu-like illness about 2- 6 weeks after being infected. This is your immune system putting up an initial fight against the virus and can last for up to a month. But, this can be easily mistaken for the flu and 20% of people don’t experience any symptoms at all.
After this has gone away, you are unlikely to notice any other symptoms for a long period of time. So the only way of knowing for sure is getting yourself tested.
5. Can a test pick up any HIV infection, regardless of when I’ve caught it?
No. A certain amount of genetic material needs to build up in your system before it can be accurately detected by a test. The time taken for this to happen is called the ‘window period’ and this is different for every test.
- The standard antibody (Ab) test will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 3 months ago.
- The combined antibody/ antigen test (4th Generation test) will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 6 weeks ago.
- The HIV PCR test will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 7-10 days ago.
In most cases, you will be given either the standard antibody or combined test. If you test negative for these, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are HIV negative, because you might have been infected within the last 3 months (or 6 weeks). You are therefore advised to take a second test 3 months later for the all clear.
If you want a faster result you can pay for a PCR test. But these are only offered at some clinics and may cost up to £250.
6. I think I’ve caught HIV within the last few days, what do I do?
If you’re worried that you’ve contracted HIV very recently, as in, within the past 72 hours (3 days) then you should go to your local GUM clinic or A&E department and request emergency PEP treatment.
7. I’m afraid to get tested because I don’t like needles
HIV tests don’t have to be done via needle or syringe, some clinics use ‘Fastest’ Rapid Testing which simply takes a prick on the end of your finger. Other clinics may take oral swabs instead, this method is considered less effective than a blood test however, so some clinics won’t offer it.
8. How long do I have to wait for my results?
That depends on the clinic you go to. Most will contact you with your result (or ask you to come back in for it) within 3-5 days. If you take a rapid test your result will be ready within the hour. Some clinics can take up to 2 weeks however, don’t be afraid to ask when you should expect the results.
9. What happens if I test positive?
First off, a positive result doesn’t always mean you’re HIV+. There is a small margin of error, so all positive results must be followed up by a confirmation test.
If you do test positive for that, then the doctor or nurse who informs you of your result will set up a meeting with a specialist who can assess the stage of your infection and talk to you about relevant treatment options. You’ll be put in touch with local HIV support groups who can help you cope emotionally, and make you realise that a positive result is not the end.
Thirty years on and HIV is still a problem in the UK, but it is no longer a death sentence. There is help out there and the earlier you get tested, the better your prospects. Whatever you do, make sure you get tested this HIV Testing Week.
Some charities that can help:
Happy Friday to you lovely people,
Today, Friday 23rd November 2012 marks the start of National HIV Testing Week here in England. This is the first time such a large initiative has been run to encourage the people of England to go out and get tested.
National HIV Testing Week runs from Friday 23rd November to Friday 30th November, finishing just before World AIDS Day on Saturday 1st December.
The initiative is being run by the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV charity (who are celebrating their 30th birthday this year) and supported by a whole host of other organisations such as BASHH, BHIVA and the HPA.
Many people are put off going for HIV test by a fear of needles or having blood taken, but the fact is most clinics these days use rapid testing known as FastTest which involves a simple prick on your finger and you’ll get the results within minutes.
Annie Lennox was interviewed this week for ITV News about her views on HIV and testing in the UK, she said:
“We’re still struggling with the issue of stigma, fear and ignorance, There are many people that now, actually need to get tested. Friday 23rd at the end of the is the begining of National Testing week here in the country and we’ll be encouraging people to go get tested and find out their status… Go and get tested, find out your status, then you can know what you’re dealing with.” You can watch the full interview here: http://vimeo.com/53871991
Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London said:
“London is home to almost half of all people living with HIV in the UK, but a quarter of them are unaware that they carry the virus. It is vital that people who might be at risk get tested, not only to reduce the risk of transmission to others, but to ensure that they get the life-saving treatments that are available”
Even if you’ve been tested recently, or are HIV+ why not help promote National HIV Testing week via your facebook or Twitter using #HIVTestingWeek and encourage your friends to go and get tested. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take control of your health and protect those around you.
Enjoy your Friday and weekend!
Lots of Love,
A few days ago I had the pleasure to meet a lovely guy with whom I was lucky enough to spend the night. Before anything even started to happen he told me that he’d recently contracted HPV. I was incredibly impressed that a) he’d been so upfront/honest with me, and b) he’d managed to tell me before I’d told him my HIV status.
So we had a chat about our various issues, both starting and ending with H and ending in V but all in all quite different conditions. Although I thought I was quite clued up on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) I really didn’t know all that much about HPV. He explained a little, as did I about HIV.
Yesterday, being the curious soul that I am, I decided to do a little research into HPV. I’ve heard it mentioned here and there, especially into vaccinating school girls but that’s about it. I did some googling, I spoke to a sexual health nurse and my HIV consultant and below are some of my findings.
- HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the virus responsible for warts.
- There are currently 120 known strains of the virus.
- HPV is the most commonly transmitted STI in the entire world, (second in the UK behind Chlamydia)
- Approximately 80% of the population will contract a genital strain of HPV in their lifetime, with the 20-24 year old age being the most prevalent, although most will not show symptoms.
- Condoms provide some protection, but not complete protection as they do not cover the entire genital area.
- The human body will clear most HPV infections within 2 years naturally.
- Worldwide 5.2% of all cancers can be traced back to the HPV virus (largely anal and cervical cancers)
I asked my consultant whether I should get vaccinated against HPV and he told me that I’d have to pay to have it done privately as I don’t fall under the current NHS vaccination remit – and that it’d likely be wasted money as he’d bet I’ve already been exposed to at least one strain in the past.
It’s amazing such a common virus, one that will reach approximately 80% of us at some point is so unknown isn’t it?
Just another reason to go get checked eh? For more information check out the NHS page on HPV
All the best,
When it comes to HIV there are a lot of medical terms bandied about, things like viral load, CD4, HART, ARV, advanced infection and resistance to name just a few, and if you (like me), are not a doctor these can initially be somewhat confusing. What I’m talking about today however is ‘Early Diagnosis’.
Early Diagnosis is just that, making a diagnosis of HIV in the early stages of the disease. Whilst there is no defined time scale for Early Diagnosis it’s widely taken to mean within a year of the initial infection.
What are the benefits to Early Detection?
- You can start receiving specialist care. Some people may not need treatment for years, others like myself, might start in a matter of months. But once you’re under the care of a HIV clinic their regular monitoring will make sure you stay in tip top condition and recommend treatment to you - when it’s appropriate.
- You’ll live longer. Studies have shown that the earlier you’re diagnosed the longer you’ll live. Things have come on in leaps and bounds in the last 30 years and someone diagnosed in their twenties will now live until their mid-seventies, and that’s without any advances in care that happen in the meantime.
- You can protect others. Knowledge is power. By knowing that you’re HIV+ you can inform past sexual partners that may have been at risk, and make more informed and responsible decisions with any future partners. Modern treatment can also reduce the risk of passing on the infection by upto 96%.
What are the challenges to Early Detection initiatives?
- Ignorance. Many people believe that they’ll know if/when they have HIV through symptoms such as a flu, or a rash. However, many people who contract HIV, myself included, show no symptoms at all, and even if they do experience flu like symptoms they may think it’s just the flu and nothing more serious.
- Fear. The idea that you may have HIV isn’t a nice one, in fact for most people it’s down right terrifying. This leads to people burying their heads in the sand and putting off testing. Other people are put off because they’re afraid of the tests themselves, when in fact most HIV testing is done in minutes with a simple prick test.
- Denial. I didn’t think I’d ever get HIV. I’m in my twenties, I was look after myself, HIV doesn’t happen to people like me does it? Wrong. HIV can happen to anyone, and at any time.
So, what next?
- Inform the masses. HIV awareness campaigns tend to be limited to niche publications, such as the gay press. I think there’s a pressing need for a national campaign, both in print and on TV, but unlike the adverts of the 80′s we need to inform, teach and encourage to test rather than shock and scare.
- Fight the stigma. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding people living with HIV, again this is firmly rooted in the 80′s where HIV and AIDS was portrayed as a dirty disease that affected dirty deviant people. We need to show that HIV affects people from all walks of life, and can be contracted in any manner of ways.
- Encourage testing. Through these new campagins, both nationally and targetted at specific communities, we need to encourage regular testing. Let people know that it takes only a few minutes, doesn’t involve needles and is free of charge.
Please, if you can, donate to one of the HIV charities and help them raise awareness and provide services. Consider reblogging/retweeting/facebooking/sharing this blog post to your followers and friends to do your part to raise awareness about the benefits of Early Detection. It only takes one click and could positively impact on any number of lives.
Love and respect,