HIV: Do you know your status? If not, get tested...

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HIV has NOT been cured so it is 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.

Running from November 18 to November 25, testing week 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 not been diagnosed.

So the responsible thing to do – for anyone who has sex or shares needles – is to know your status.

Someone who knows his status only too well is Michael (56), from Glasgow.

Having donated a pint of blood to the transfusion service in 1996, Michael received a letter three weeks later saying an anomaly had shown up in his blood.

He said: “I did my civic duty and thought no more of it until the letter turned up.

“They asked me to go in the following day. They sat me down and said: ‘there’s no easy way to tell you this...you are HIV positive’.

“I was so shocked because I wasn’t in a high risk group – I’m a heterosexual, non drug user so HIV wasn’t something I’d considered.”

Michael was diagnosed on June 23, 1996 – a date that changed his life forever.However, in the 20 years that have since passed, he’s witnessed many advances in HIV treatment.

He said: “The first ten years were extremely difficult.

“Every six months or so they changed my drug regime because it wasn’t working well enough for me.

“They finally found one that suited me and now the virus load is undetectable in my blood.”

And that’s great news for Michael, who is a self-employed book-keeper in the city.

“There was a time in the first few years when I was taking 36 tablets a day,” he said. “Now, I only take three tablets once a day – a combination of nine drugs with breakfast and that’s it.”

While Michael is now living healthily with HIV, he admits it did take its toll.

“I’m single –it’s always been a difficult thing for me to broach the subject with a potential partner,” he said.

“When is the right time to tell someone?

“I also struggled like hell for the first ten years just staying alive and finding the right medication.

“The last ten years have been much, much better but I’ve got a lot going on in my life without a partner – although I’d never say never.”

Now Michael’s main aim is to help stop the stigma attached to HIV and raise awareness.

He has been a volunteer with HIV Scotland for four years and is involved with the annual Positive People’s Forum – for people living with HIV.

He said: “A lot of people have negative and naive ideas about HIV which generates even more stigma.

“The bottom line is, if you are sexually active and are not always careful, there is a risk of contracting HIV.

“But it’s important for people to know that a positive diagnosis does not mean their life is over.

“As long as you look after yourself and follow your regime, then you can live a very healthy life.

“People need to realise that it’s not a death sentence anymore so education is key.”

Michael also believes youngsters need further education about HIV.

And that’s largely down to the media hype about PEP – Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.

If you believe you have been at riskof HIV in the last day or so, you can use PEP to vastly reduce your risk of infection.

The sooner you take PEP the more effective it is – preferably within the first 24 hours but certainly no longer than 72 hours after exposure.

It is available from sexual health clinics and hospital emergency departments.

However, Michael sounded a note of caution about using it as a cure all.

He added: “Children these days are far more aware about HIV – almost to the extent of complacency.

“I think some of them think if they take a tablet, it will go away.

“While PEP is a morning after treatment, just like the morning after pill it doesn’t work in all cases.

“And if you’re diagnosed with HIV you’re living with it – and heavy duty medication – for the rest of your life.

“People should know the risks and not bury their head in the sand. So anyone who thinks they may be at risk should get tested.”

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.

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 the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, which has a population of around 1.2 million, 1569 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – and 1367 were receiving treatment. Of those cases, 54 were diagnosed in 2016.

HIV tests are available at GP surgeries and sexual health clinics in East Dunbartonshire.