HIV

What you need to know

Around a quarter of the estimated 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have the infection, and around half of people newly diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed after the point at which they should have started treatment. In Bromley the rates of HIV are high and so it is very important that more people get tested. You can have a HIV test even if you do not have any signs and symptoms.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a type of infection. The HIV virus can attack the body’s immune system which is how your body usually fights infection. When your immune system becomes damaged by HIV you may not be able to fight infection and you can become unwell.

Most HIV infection is contracted through unprotected sex because HIV is present in body fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid. It can also be transmitted through sharing injecting drug equipment and from mother to child at birth or through breastfeeding (but this is rare in the UK because pregnant women are screened in early pregnancy).

HIV is now a chronic manageable disease because effective treatement known as highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) can control the virus preventing the immune system from declining. Not only does HAART ensure the health of people living with HIV but it also makes it very unlikely that someone with HIV would pass the virus on to others. Undiagnosed people may be at risk of developing serious infections if they do not receive treatment and may also be likely to inadvertently pass the virus on to others.

Signs and symptoms

Sometimes symptoms can occur just after being infected with HIV – this is called primary HIV infection or sero-coversion and at this time people can be highly infectious if they have unprotected sex.

The symptoms of primary infection are similar to flu:

  • sore throat
  • high temperature
  • rash

After sero-conversion has taken place, a person can be well and have no symptoms for a long time. This is a time when people with HIV can still be infectious to others and often remain undiagnosed.

Testing and treatment

If you want an HIV test, you may be eligible for a free online test (you must be over 25 and meet certain criteria to participate, find out more here).

If you are under 25 or are not eligible for an online test you will need to attend the GUM sexual health clinic at Beckenham Beacon or visit your GP.

It can take up to three months after coming into contact with HIV before it is detectable in the blood. This is known as the window period. HIV can still be passed on during the window period even though it cannot be detected.

You should always test yourself if you become worried that you might have put yourself at risk, even if you think it was a long time ago, or just a few weeks ago. It is better to know you have HIV so you can get the right treatment earlier.

Although HIV can affect anyone from any community, there are population groups in the UK who are at increased risk of HIV infection. This includes:-

  • Gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men)
  • People from Black African community groups
  • People who share injecting equipment for taking recreational (e.g. heroin) and/or performance enhancing drugs (e.g. steroids)
  • Sexual partners of people who are living with HIV

Urgent HIV treatment

If you have had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone in the last three days (72 hours) who is HIV positive or who has a high chance of having HIV, your doctor or nurse may recommend taking a short course of anti-HIV drugs known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

PEP is the name of the treatment given to people who may have been exposed to HIV. The aim is to try and prevent you from getting the virus. A combination of medicines is used for four weeks. It is more effective the sooner you take it.

If you think you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, you can go to: GUM Sexual Health Clinic at Beckenham Beacon or to A&E if it is out of hours. For the GUM clinic opening hours click here.

Information on how to protect yourself

Information on how to protect yourself

Information on how to protect yourself

Living with HIV, care and support

In Bromley, service users have access to a highly specialist HIV nursing team. Our team is integrated with the Kings College Hospital HIV service including specialist doctors, HIV consultants and pharmacists to support patients living with HIV.

You can contact the Specialist HIV Community Nurses on 01689 866647.

Please follow the links below to pages that may provide helpful information for you including advice on how to live with HIV and where to access wider support:

  • Positively UK provides peer-led support, advocacy and information to women, men and young people living with HIV to manage any aspect of their diagnosis, care and managing life with HIV.
  • HIV treatment information base.
  • The Terrence Higgins Trust are a charity who have supported people living with HIV for decades and additionally aim to improve the nation’s sexual health.
  • Access a comprehensive store of information on the NHS website
  • The national AIDS trust, championing the rights of people living with AIDS
  • The gay men’s health charity provide frank advice and support including information on HIV prevention and how to improve your sexual health
  • London Friend is a site providing support, particularly for gay/bisexual men using “chems”, or alcohol which maybe impacting on their decisions about sex and relationships

PrEP

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) are HIV drugs taken by an HIV negative person, to reduce the risk of getting HIV.

PrEP is recommended to people who are at high risk of HIV. Recent studies have shown that taking PrEP can significantly reduce the risk of becoming HIV positive. If you think you may be eligible for PreP you can visit the Kings College Hospital (KCH) sexual health clinic at Beckenham Beacon.

Currently the medication used for PrEP is a combination of commonly used drugs to treat HIV. PrEP can be taken in different ways and you can get advice from the KCH sexual health clinic at Beckenham Beacon as to which regime is most suitable for you.

If you are already taking PrEP it is important that you are doing so safely. The KCH sexual health clinic at Beckenham Beacon can give you advice, support and provide necessary monitoring tests (including regular sexual health screens).

It is important to remember that PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections– only reliable use of condoms can do this. You may be eligible for free condoms via one of our schemes in Bromley. Click here for more information.

More information on PrEP can be found online at ibase

HIDE