Health professionals in Sefton are joining forces to raise awareness about HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) testing and encourage residents that think they may have HIV to get a test.
When someone first catches HIV, they are highly infectious and more likely to pass on HIV than normal. However, HIV infections take between 4-8 weeks before they can be identified through testing. With lockdown having started in March, there are many fewer people in this ‘blind spot’ who would otherwise be missed and testing now could identify almost everyone who has the virus. If those who test positive start effective treatment straight away, the virus will become undetectable and they cannot pass it on to anyone else. Therefore, it is the time to take a test to break the chain.
The Free Testing.HIV self-sample HIV test service opened on 5 June 2020 to enable residents to easily order free self-sample kits online. The sample is sent to a laboratory for testing and the results are communicated directly to the individual, usually with a text message for negative results and by telephone for reactive results.
Sefton sexual health service offers free HIV testing for all residents. The usual walk-in sessions have been suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but the service has remained open and is offering a telephone triage system. You can call the Single Point of Access telephone number on 01695 656550 to speak to a clinician for an assessment or to arrange an appointment for testing.
Dr Anna Hunter, Sefton GP and champion for the sexual health service, said: “Time really is of the essence. We urge anyone who thinks they may have had exposure to the HIV virus from unprotected sex before the lockdown to please get tested.
“There is currently no cure for HIV but with an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan.
"It is vital that people who think they may have been exposed to the HIV virus order a self-sample kit online or contact their local sexual health clinic to book an appointment today. Early diagnosis saves lives and the NHS is here to help.”
HIV can be a very manageable condition, with treatments available making infection undetectable, meaning you can prevent transmitting it to your sexual partners in the future, allowing you to live a full life in every way. This is only possible with treatment, which is why people are being urged to get tested now.
Margaret Jones, interim director of public health for Sefton said: “HIV remains a serious public health concern due to how it negatively impacts some of our more vulnerable groups in Sefton. Now is a real chance to make a difference and to break the chain of HIV infections locally by making sure that people take a test if they think they may have been exposed to the virus.
“When lockdown eases further and sexual activity increases, we would encourage people to use condoms as they are the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.”
To order a free self-sampling HIV testing kit visit: https://freetesting.hiv/
To find your local sexual health clinic visit: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-sexual-health-clinic/
For information about the Sefton Sexual Health service visit: www.seftonsexualhealth.nhs.uk as well as information on self-care or to identify your HIV risk via the risk assessment tool “Have you taken a risk?” https://www.seftonsexualhealth.nhs.uk/other-info/hiv-risks
For more information about HIV and AIDS visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hiv-and-aids/