National HIV Testing Week: ‘We have come a long way from the tombstone AIDS adverts people remember from the 1980s’, says Guy’s doctor

Katherine Johnston (26 November, 2019) Health

'There has been huge advances in HIV care, for example people living with HIV on effective treatment cannot pass on HIV and if diagnosed early have a normal life expectancy'

18011Guy's Hospital (pictured)

Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital has been offering routine HIV testing to all patients getting blood tests  as part of National HIV Testing Week.

This is the first time the hospitals have offered the tests to all patients getting blood tests on site or at any Southwark and Lambeth GPs.

While taking the test, patients are also given information about HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

Southwark  and Lambeth have some of the highest HIV diagnoses rates in the whole of the UK, at 1.2 per cent and 1.4 per cent.

But many people do not realise they are living with the condition.

If diagnosed early and treated, people with HIV can live a near-normal lifespan.

Antiretroviral treatment stops the virus replicating in the body, which means the immune system can then repair itself and prevent further damage.

Doctors aim to get patients to a point where they have an undetectable viral load.

This is where the level of HIV in the body is low enough not to be detected by a test – known as viral suppression.

Those who sustain an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV to their sexual partners, and it also reduces the likelihood of mother to child transmission.

Dr Emma Wallis, a HIV specialist registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Routine HIV testing in outpatients and GP surgeries is a fantastic opportunity to test people that may not have had a chance to test already.

“People can live for many years unaware they are infected, testing regularly is very important so we can diagnose HIV early and offer access to lifesaving treatment.

“Also, routine testing is a great way to combat misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV.

“We have come a long way from the tombstone AIDs adverts people remember from the 1980s.

“There has been huge advances in HIV care, for example people living with HIV on effective treatment cannot pass on HIV and if diagnosed early have a normal life expectancy.

“Although virally supressed patients cannot pass on HIV, condoms are good at stopping many other sexually transmitted infections and reduce the risk of falling pregnant.”

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