Your handy guide to HIV and getting tested

Mencap and National AIDS Trust have developed an easy to read and understand leaflet on HIV.

5 Facts Leaflet

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

HIV infects and gradually destroys an infected person's immune system. This means your body is less able to fight off normal infections and germs. It makes any infections or illnesses harder to treat and it will take you longer to get better. With anti-HIV medication taken properly, HIV can be controlled meaning you can be less infectious and you can live longer.

Regular testing will ensure HIV infection is caught early and then it will be easier to control.

Symptoms of a recent infection with HIV called "seroconversion" sometimes resemble symptoms of glandular fever and appear within days to weeks following exposure to HIV. Symptoms may be very mild or severe and may last from a few days to several weeks, with the average duration being 14 days.

The most common presenting symptom is fever, seen in over 75% of patients. Other common symptoms include fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, headache, and rash (40-80% of patients). As some people do not get symptoms, we strongly recommend that you get tested to get peace of mind.

The HIV virus is passed on from getting any of the following bodily fluids from a person who has HIV into your bloodstream: Semen (cum), blood, pre-cum, breast milk, menstrual blood and vaginal fluids.

The most common ways for these bodily fluids to get in to your bloodstream are:

  • Having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
  • Sharing injecting equipment with someone, for example using shared needles.

HIV can be transmitted from mother to baby through childbirth or breastmilk. Pregnant women with HIV can take anti-HIV drugs to prevent this from happening. This is why pregnant women get tested as part of a routine series of tests.

There is no risk of HIV being passed on from normal social contact with someone who is HIV positive. This includes: touching a person with HIV, kissing, sharing towels or clothes, sharing cups, plates or glasses and breathing the same air with someone who has HIV.

If you have been exposed to HIV within 72 hours, you can get Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). If you take it as soon as possible, PEP is more effective at preventing HIV infection. For more information on PEP, please click here.

You can find out if you have become infected with HIV by having a blood test. When your body is infected with HIV it will produce antibodies which fight the infection and there will also be a HIV protein called p24 antigen present for a short time. The test that we use is looking for HIV antibodies in your blood and the virus itself.

It takes 12 weeks (3 months) for the antibodies to HIV to show up in blood. So you need to wait for 12 weeks from when you were at risk of being infected for the test to give you an accurate result. This is called the window period.

The test may be able to pick up a more recent infection within 12 weeks however for a reliable result we advise to wait 12 weeks before having the test.

If you are tested within the window period and have a negative result, we will advise you to have another test when 12 weeks after exposure has passed. This will ensure that no infection is missed.

If the HIV test comes back reactive (finding something in your blood), we will arrange for a test to confirm this at your chosen sexual health clinic as soon as possible. This is because the test may have been triggered off by another infection or medication that you might be taking.

We recommend that if you are sexually active you should have an HIV test every 6 months.

If you think you may have been at risk four weeks ago, you can get in touch with your sexual health clinic to see if they will be able to do an HIV test that can detect HIV faster. This test can detect HIV itself as well as HIV antibodies. The test will involve a full blood sample to be taken from your arm and it is different from the test that we use. The results will usually come back in two weeks.

Our HIV testing service is open to everybody over the age of 16. Our workers are experienced in meeting the specific needs of trans people and we aim to always work in a way that is sensitive to and respectful of anyone who comes in for a test.

Having an HIV test can have a big impact on you whether you have a positive or negative result. Only you can decide if having an HIV test is right for you. You should not feel pressured into having a test by other people.

Below are some of the reasons not to have an HIV test and some of the reasons to have an HIV test. Everyone is different and so you might have reasons of your own.

Reasons not to test:

  • A positive result can mean a lot of stress and impact on your day to day life.
  • People may treat you differently if they know you are HIV positive.
  • You may be restricted on travelling or working abroad.
  • A positive HIV result can make it more difficult to get a mortgage or life insurance.
  • You may not be in a place to deal with a positive result emotionally.

Reasons to test:

  • You will know your HIV status, you won’t be worried about what you think your HIV status is.
  • A negative result may give you peace of mind.
  • A positive result will enable you to access medication and specialist support.
  • If you are HIV positive, the sooner you are diagnosed the more treatment options you will have.
  • A positive result will help you to avoid infecting others with HIV in the future.
  • You will be able to make decisions about your future.
  • To help you plan the type of sex you want with your partner.
  • To make decisions about your pregnancy, delivery and post-natal care

You will have a chat with a trained worker to discuss risk and how to minimise risk in the future. When you are aware of what the test involves and agree to it, we will do the test.

The test for HIV that Testing Times uses will need a finger prick of blood. No needles are seen. It will only take 20 minutes for the result to come back.

If the test doesn't find any HIV or HIV antibodies after 12 weeks and you haven't been exposed to the virus within 12 weeks, you are negative. This means you didn't have HIV 12 weeks ago. This does not mean that you are immune.

If the test comes back reactive this means that the test has been triggered by something in your blood. There is a slim chance that it may not be HIV so we will need to arrange a test to confirm this at the sexual health clinic of your choice.

This is a result for you and does not tell you anybody else’s status so don’t assume that your partner has the same status.

No, the test can only say that you were HIV negative 12 weeks ago. We are unable to supply a certificate as we don't know if you have been exposed to HIV within 12 weeks. The result is already out of date so may not be a reliable indicator of your current HIV status today.

No, we are allowed to refuse a recording taking place. An audio or visual record of the discussion is not proof of someone's current HIV status. The HIV test result is not a reliable indicator of your current HIV status today and the test discussions could be based on falsified information provided to the staff member. The person may have taken risks within the last 12 weeks meaning that they could now be HIV positive.

Yes, but bear in mind that the test result is already out of date and does not mean that the person tested will remain HIV negative. The photo is NOT a certificate.

Getting a negative result doesn’t mean that you are immune from HIV. You might want to think about the times you have been uncomfortable with the risks you have taken and how you might deal with these in the future.

The result tells you what your HIV status was 12 weeks ago. If you have had unprotected sex or shared injecting equipment in the last 12 weeks you may want to take another test.

This is a result for you and does not tell you anybody else’s status. Don’t assume that your partner has the same status.

This is a result for you and does not tell you anybody else’s status. Don’t assume that your partner has the same status.

A positive result could mean that you face discrimination from some people if they know about your status.

If you are HIV positive you can pass HIV onto other people through unprotected sex, sharing injecting equipment and through breast feeding.

You may want to make changes in your life. Remember that you may be in shock and might not be thinking very clearly. Wait until things settle down until you make any major decisions.

Similarly, you might want to tell lots of people about being positive. It's important you have someone you can talk to, but at this stage, try only to talk to people you really trust. You can always tell people later but you can't ever untell them.

Click here to book a HIV test

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