Topics on this page include the following; you can jump to them by clicking on the headings below:
- Why HIV Testing?
- Where Can I Get an HIV Test?
- What Does an HIV Test Involve?
- HIV Testing in North Yorkshire
- Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
- Newly Diagnosed – What now?
It is virtually impossible to diagnose HIV from symptoms alone, especially during the initial and asymptomatic stages of HIV. If you think you might be at risk of infection, it is important to have an HIV test. This is the only way of being sure about whether or not HIV has been contracted. There are many good reasons for taking an HIV test, and these days, very few if any reasons for not taking a test. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the less damage that is done to the immune system, leading to the strongest recovery of the immune system after starting HIV treatment. Treatment today is much improved on that of years ago – often, treatment will be in the form of one to two tablets, to be taken once a day. The risk of side effects is also much reduced, and most people will experience only mild side effects, typically for the first few weeks of starting treatment. Taking a test will also put your mind at ease – living with uncertainty is stressful. Whatever the outcome of the test, knowing is better than not knowing your HIV status. Most of the reasons for not taking an HIV test (such as this impacting future insurance, loans or mortgages, merely from having been tested for HIV, irrespective of the outcome of the test) have gone.
There are various places you can get an HIV test, such as:
- sexual health clinics or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics at hospitals
- your GP surgery (ask your doctor or practice nurse whether your surgery offers HIV testing)
- some contraception and young people’s clinics
- Fastest clinics, which are rapid testing clinics run by the Terrence Higgins Trust
- community-based testing services run by voluntary organisations
- a private clinic
- an antenatal clinic, if you are pregnant
- local drugs agencies, if you are an injecting drug user
- THT have a free postal HIV testing service in some areas – see here.
- TEst HIV offer free postal tests for at-risk groups or in areas of high HIV prevalence – see here.
- At our NYAA York office
The rapid testing service is normally available at the NYAA office between 10am and 4pm; please ring for an appointment at a mutually convenient time.
You can find our contact details here.
HIV is diagnosed by testing the blood for the presence of the HIV virus. The HIV blood test looks for HIV antibodies in the blood. These typically develop within a few weeks of infection, so if a test is done before these antibodies have developed, the HIV will not show up. For this reason, there is a “window period” following the initial HIV infection, during which testing is not done or is not reliable. This is typically 12 weeks, though more modern tests have reduced this window period to 6 weeks. So if the exposure to HIV is very recent (within this window), a delay in testing, or repeat testing after the window period, is recommended.
For an HIV test, a small sample of blood will be taken in the normal way from a vein in the arm. This is then sent for analysis, so the result will be available typically in a week or so. The results of your HIV test will remain strictly confidential. If you receive a positive HIV result, you will be referred to an HIV clinic. An HIV clinic is a specialist health unit that is staffed by many different professionals who specialise in helping people living with HIV. Clinic staff may include:
- a counsellor
- a social worker
- a dietitian
- a dentist
- specialist doctors with experience in treating HIV
- emergency ‘walk-in’ doctors
- a pharmacist
At the clinic, or on receiving the test result from a test centre, you should also be advised of any local HIV organisations, who can provide information and support.
Remember – getting a positive diagnosis for HIV is not like it was in the 1980s! HIV treatment today is very successful and easy to take – often, just one or two tablets, once a day, with very few side-effects. And the outcome for people recently diagnosed early with HIV who take their treatment as instructed is also very good, with most living a full and active life with a near-normal life expectancy.
Waiting a week for the result of an HIV test can be very stressful. There are now rapid HIV tests, which take a drop of blood from a pin-prick in the finger, and give a result in an hour or less. These rapid tests can be found in some community locations, and at Fastest Clinics run by THT. Rapid tests are not normally done at GUM clinics, or in hospital settings. There is a very small chance that the result from a rapid test may be false, so any reactive result from a rapid HIV test (indicating that HIV is present) is always followed up with a conventional HIV test. Typically, clinics offering rapid tests will also be able to offer support for anyone who needs it, and can refer people to an HIV specialist clinic within a few days at most. THT also use this kind of rapid test in a free postal HIV test – see here for details.
Rapid tests can be done at these locations:
- At our NYAA York office
- Teesside Positive Action (TPA), Middlesbrough
- THT Fastest – by arrangement nationwide
- Test free postal HIV test (for high-risk groups, or in areas of high prevalence)
- THT free postal HIV test in some areas
You can find our contact details here.
Conventional HIV Testing can be done in GU clinics at these locations:
- York and Selby
- Harrogate and Craven
- Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale
- Northallerton (Hambleton and Richmondshire)
- Middlesbrough (Teesside)
- Darlington (County Durham)
It is a course of anti-HIV medication that needs to be taken daily over the course of a month. This has been available since the early- to mid-1990s for health workers who have had ‘needle-stick’ or similar injuries – accidentally pricking themselves with a needle that has been used for someone with HIV, for example.
More recently, PEP has been made available to people who might have been exposed to HIV during sex. For the treatment to be effective, it needs to be started as soon as possible after exposure, and no later than 72 hours after exposure.
PEP can be available from sexual health clinics and hospital accident and emergency departments. Many people say they have had difficulty obtaining PEP from these places, especially outside metropolitan areas. You are more likely to be successful if you enquire at a sexual health clinic or A&E in a hospital where there is also a specialist HIV clinic.
You must also meet the prescribing guidelines for PEP – a series of questions will be asked to see whether or not there is a significant risk of HIV infection. Often, people may not know how HIV can be transmitted, so they may worry unnecessarily. In any event, if you are concerned, answer the questions openly and honestly, and then PEP can be given if appropriate.
PEP is not a cure for HIV and is not guaranteed to prevent HIV from taking hold once the virus has entered the body. Condoms for sex remains the most efficient way of staying safe from HIV.
If you have been tested and received a positive result, showing that you have HIV, then of course it can be a very unsettling and emotional time. Although the clinicians where you were tested will no doubt give you information about the clinical side of things, it may well be that you don’t take it all in, or have lots of worries and questions that only come to mind later, as you reflect on things. And of course, the clinicians do not really address many of the emotional and practical things that need to be considered. Many people have found it very helpful to talk to organisations like ours as soon as possible after a positive diagnosis.
There’s a lot to take in, and you’ll probably have a lot of questions. Just being able to talk to someone else who has experience of HIV can be a real help. Although NYAA does not have any clinical staff, and so is not able to comment of the specifics of any medical or treatment issues, nonetheless, we do know a lot about HIV treatment in general, and can help explain and clarify things that you have been told by your clinical team, but perhaps do not quite “get”. And we can help you prepare for your visits to the clinic, and think about questions or issues you might want to raise with your clinical team.
We at NYAA are there to provide emotional and practical support. There are a lot of issues other than clinical ones that will need to be considered. A key one is disclosure – who do you tell about your HIVstatus, and when and how do you tell them? This is a really important (and sometimes difficult) issue, and is one that should not be rushed into. Talking it over with someone who has experience, and who you can trust, can be really helpful. This, together with other issues, is discussed a bit more fully in the section “Living with HIV” .
You can find our contact details here, or you can contact us using the form below: