Next week marks the start of National HIV testing week (6-12 February), and Somerset Council are encouraging anyone who may have put themselves at risk of getting the virus to get tested.
National HIV Testing Week takes place every year to promote regular testing for HIV and aims to identify those who are undiagnosed, avoid late diagnoses, and enable people to start effective treatment immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent potential illness and protect others from HIV infection.
The awareness week also helps to increase knowledge of HIV and testing in communities that are most affected by HIV, as well as the wider population.
Adam Dance, Lead Member for Public Health, Equalities and Diversity at Somerset Council, said:
HIV Testing Week is a really good opportunity to remind people across Somerset of the importance of regular HIV testing, and break the stigma attached to the HIV virus.
I test as a routine part of looking after my own health and I would encourage anyone who is unsure of whether they may have contracted HIV to use this opportunity to get a free, confidential test.
Consultant Dr Kanch Seneviratne at Somerset Wide Integrated Sexual Health added:
The sooner someone with HIV starts treatment, the better it is for their health. Today, if you test positive, effective treatment means you can live as long as anyone else, and when the amount of the virus in your blood is reduced to undetectable levels, this means you cannot pass on HIV to anyone else.
Most new HIV infections come from condomless sex with someone who doesn’t know they have HIV so it’s still important to use condoms to protect ourselves.
In Somerset, late diagnosis is high amongst those who identify as heterosexual, who are less likely to access HIV testing. Late diagnosis is also high in those aged over 50, and those who identify as bisexual men and men who have sex with men.
Testing saves lives: testing for HIV is so important because of all the benefits of knowing your status, whether it is testing negative and gaining access to prevention advice and knowledge of how to stay negative; or if testing positive and having access to effective well tolerated treatment which means you can live a normal life and be confident that you cannot pass HIV to sexual partners.
HIV treatment has made huge advances and enables those living with the HIV to lead stable and healthy lives without worrying about passing the virus to others. Testing for HIV is free and puts you in control. You can access a free test at www.freetesting.hiv or it can be done in person at any of the SWISH clinics.