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
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.
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
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.
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
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a combination of commonly used anti-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. Further research is currently being undertaken to measure how many people at high risk of acquiring HIV will take up the offer of PrEP. This research project is known as the PrEP Impact trial and can be accessed via sexual health clinics.
If you think you may be eligible for PreP or are already taking PrEP and need to have regular monitoring tests and STI screening please visit the GUM sexual health clinic at Beckenham Beacon for further advice and support. I want PrEP now is also an excellent source of advice, information and support.
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.