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Dispel stigma around HIV and AIDS on World Aids Day

Posted on the 30th November 2016

Health professionals from Lancashire Care’s Contraception and Sexual Health (CaSH) service are marking World Aids Day on 1 December by showing support for people living with the condition and raising awareness of the importance of getting tested for HIV.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is an infection which attacks the body’s immune system and is passed on through bodily fluids. Over 90 percent of those who have contracted the disease have done so through sexual contact. Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, which provides various sexual health services across the county, is therefore asking people to be aware and recognise the support that is available.

Lynne Park from Lancashire Care’s Contraception and Sexual Health (CaSH) service said: “There were an estimated 103,700 people living with HIV in the UK in 2014. An estimated 18,100 of these were undiagnosed and not receiving the treatment they needed. The earlier the condition is identified, the better the health outcomes. Early diagnosis is the way forward to successfully managing HIV. However, the most effective way of reducing HIV prevalence is prevention. Therefore, we urge everyone, especially with the festive period approaching and the increase in alcohol consumption and lowering of inhibitions, to be aware of the importance of practicing safer sex to reduce the risk of transmission of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies.

“Advancement in treatment and the development of anti-retroviral therapy means HIV no longer has to be a terminal illness. It can be a well-controlled long term condition with some patients only taking 1 tablet per day to control their HIV. If you are scared of needles please ask about the quick and easy finger prick test for HIV.”

Common symptoms of early HIV infection are a fever, rash and severe sore throat which occur at the same time. If you feel you have been exposed to a risk of infection, you should take a HIV test. Around 70-90 percent of people experience symptoms of early infection but as the symptoms can be mild they often go unnoticed. After two to three weeks the symptoms can disappear and it may be years before further indications of positive infection occur.

If you think you may have put yourself at risk of HIV you can access emergency anti HIV medication within 72 hours of risk to help reduce the risk of you becoming HIV positive. This medication is available at GUM clinics and out of hours from Accident and Emergency departments. If diagnosed early, treatment is available to help control the virus. The longer it takes to diagnose the infection, the higher the risk of HIV associated infections and complications.

To contact your local CaSH team, book an appointment or find out about ‘drop-ins,’ call 01772 401140. There are clinics in various locations and different session times across Lancashire. To find out more about services in your area, visit www.lancashirecare.nhs.uk/cash-lancashire.

CASE STUDY 1

This case study has been anonymised to protect the service user’s identity

Jane (not her real name) is 42 years old and from Lancashire. She was diagnosed as HIV positive just over 3 years ago. Jane said: “I had been sexually assaulted around 12 years ago and that’s how I contracted the condition. Following the assault, I had undergone testing for other STIs, but not for HIV.

“It was around three years ago that I was diagnosed with HIV. This was when I was in intensive care. I had contracted PCP, which is a type of pneumonia that is associated with HIV. I was seriously ill and had visited my GP but the visits weren’t getting me anywhere. On my partner’s advice, I went to A&E and was admitted into hospital. I couldn’t breathe properly. Several tests later, I learned I had double pneumonia. So, while lying in a bed, I was asked if I would have the HIV test. I agreed and three days later the test came back to say I was HIV positive.

“There’s a lot of stigma around getting tested, but I would advise people that if you’re in doubt, then just get tested. There is a lot of ignorance around HIV and AIDS. I’m from the era when the HIV and AIDS tombstone adverts were appearing on telly. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it and I still think people need educating a lot more about it. There is a life after being diagnosed. The HIV clinic is great; they’re very good and provide fantastic advice. I couldn’t wish for a better team or nursing staff to help me along with this condition. The support groups are also great and provide you with hope and understanding that you can live a full life even after you’ve been diagnosed. Everything is done in confidence.

“When I contracted HIV 12 years ago, there were no symptoms at that time and that’s why it took so long to get diagnosed. I presently live a normal life. My partner is tested regularly and he’s negative. Thanks to modern medication, my viral load is undetectable, which means I’m unable to pass on HIV to my partner. I believe in safe sex and I’m able to live a normal life.”