HIV has NOT been cured so it’s important for people who think they may be at risk to get tested.
That’s the message HIV Scotland is keen to promote this HIV Testing Week and in the run up to World AIDS Day on December 1.
The HIV testing event, from November 18 to November 25, aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland knows their status.
Across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – one in six of whom don’t know they’re living with the condition.
And the majority of new infections are passed on unknowingly by someone who has never been diagnosed.
So the most responsible thing anyone who has sex or shares needles can do is to find out their status.
To ensure that message is getting out, NHS Borders is keen to promote the services it offers locally.
Dr Tim Patterson, joint director of public health in the Borders, said: “HIV Testing Week and World AIDS Day are great opportunities for everyone to think about testing.
“In Scotland, more than 4000 people are attending clinics for treatment of HIV and most of them are in excellent health, taking as little as one tablet a day to control the infection.
“Taking HIV therapy ensures long term health and almost eliminates the chance of passing on the infection.
“However, up to a quarter of people with HIV don’t know they have it.”
NHS Scotland uses testing week to to raise awareness of HIV, encouraging people to know their status, take control of their HIV and work together to help stop the virus in its tracks.
Dr Patterson said: “Although we encourage everyone to know their status, we make special efforts to encourage men who sleep with men to test regularly.
“Men who have sex with men account for 70 per cent of HIV transmissions in Scotland.”
The Resource Outreach Advice for Men service (ROAM) is an NHS Lothian outreach team that provides sexual health services to men having sex with men in Lothian and the Borders.
The service encourages men to test regularly. ROAM offers a dedicated testing service at Borders Sexual Health Clinic at Galashiels Health Centre in Currie Road on Tuesdays from 10am to 1pm.
A 30 minute HIV and syphilis finger prick test is available, alongside tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, Hepatitis A & B vaccinations and support.
However, Dr Patterson added: “Anyone can get an HIV test at any Borders sexual health clinic or through their GP.”
Most HIV tests involve taking a small sample of blood – either from a finger prick or your arm – and some can return confidential results while you wait.
A test helps put you in control, even if the results are positive.
For HIV can now be managed well with treatment which reduces the likelihood of passing it on.
Perhaps most importantly though, being tested could help put an end to HIV once and for all.
An HIV Scotland spokeswoman explained: “The majority of new infections are passed on by people who unknowingly did so – because they didn’t know their status.
“By testing regularly, people can help to reduce the number of new infections recorded in Scotland.
“That’s why it’s so imporant for people to know their status and get tested.”
Remember, a positive test result is no longer the death sentence it once was.
In fact, the earlier anti-retrovirals are used to treat HIV, the better and a person living with HIV can expect to live a long, healthy life.
Taken as prescribed, the medication helps reduce the amount of HIV in your blood – viral load – to the point where it is undetectable and the risks of passing it on are dramatically reduced.
For more information on sexual health testing services in the Borders visit www.borderssexualhealth.org.uk
* If you believe you have been at riskof HIV in the last day or so, you can use PEP – Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.
The sooner you take PEP the more effective it is – preferably within the first 24 hours and no longer than 72 hours after exposure.
It is available from sexual health clinics and hospital emergency departments and must be taken for 28 days.
However, it does not have a 100 per cent success rate.
Condoms, lubricant and not sharing needles are still the best ways to protect yourself from HIV.
HIV: THE FACTS
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.
HIV can affect anyone who has unprotected sex or shares drug injecting equipment – so anyone who has been at risk should get tested.
But stigma and fear surrounding HIV can put people off getting a test which, in turn, can result in new infections.
There are a lot of myths surrounding HIV which only help to stigmatise the disease even further.
HIV cannot be passed on through kissing, hugging or shaking hands.
And HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was – with treatment, it can be managed and someone living with HIV can lead a healthy life.
As of June 30, 2016 there were 5151 people diagnosed with HIV living in Scotland.
A further 17 per cent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it.
So across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – around one in six of whom don’t know they are infected.
Every day in Scotland, someone learns they are living with HIV – the numbers of new diagnosed infections has remained around the same for the last ten years.
In 2015 there were 361 new diagnoses.
Some 93 per cent of people living with HIV are already on treatment and of those on treatment 94 per cent are undetectable – meaning they cannot pass the virus on.
In NHS Borders, which has a population of around 114,000, 47 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – 40 of whom were receiving treatment.
Of these cases, none were newly-diagnosed in 2016.
HIV tests are routinely available at GP surgeries and sexual health clinics.