Raising awareness of testing this HIV Testing Week

Today (6 February) marks the start of National HIV Testing Week, a campaign designed to raise awareness of the importance of HIV testing among England’s most affected groups.

Running from 6-13 February, the strapline for this year’s campaign is, ‘I Test’, and will explore the different reasons that people get tested for HIV.

The annual campaign is organised and delivered by HIV Prevention England (HPE), the national HIV prevention programme funded by Public Health England.

Part of the Terrence Higgins Trust, HPE co-ordinates and delivers HIV prevention work with communities most impacted by HIV and works closely with NHS clinics and local authorities.

The theme for this year’s HIV Testing Week was developed following findings and recommendations from the previous campaign, ‘Give HIV the finger’, which ran for five years.

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that weakens your immune system over time, and is transferred through bodily fluids including blood, vaginal fluids, and semen.

While there are some early symptoms that people can look out for including fever, headache, tiredness or fatigue, a sore throat and/or swollen lymph nodes, many people do not display any symptoms for weeks, months or even years.

This means that HIV is highly transmissible and is often passed on through sexual intercourse by people who do not realise that they have the virus.

It can also be spread via blood by people who share needles while injecting drugs, and during childbirth.

While there is currently no cure for HIV, advances in medical science including early detection using laboratory testing, and treatment for HIV using antiretroviral drugs, mean that we can stop the virus from replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and ensuring the virus remains undetectable.

When HIV is undetectable, the virus cannot be passed on to other people, even while it remains in the body.

This means that individuals living with HIV can have sex without passing the virus on to others. This is known as undetectable=untransmittable (U=U).

Why is regular HIV testing so important?

Getting tested is the only way for a person to find out their HIV status and plays a vital role in reducing the risk of transmission from person to person.

For people who have the virus, finding out early can also help ensure they are able to seek the correct treatment before the infection progresses and symptoms worsen.

Additionally, routine HIV testing can give peace of mind to people who are sexually active, ensuring they remain clear of any infection.  

In December 2021, the Government published its HIV Action Plan, which set out ambitious targets to ‘achieve an 80% reduction in new HIV infections in England by 2023’, with the ultimate aim of zero new cases of HIV by 2030.

Official figures show that coverage for HIV treatment is high in England at 99%. However, people can only pursue treatment if they know their HIV status.

In 2021 alone, 46% of people diagnosed with HIV were classed as being diagnosed late, which has been proven to lead to poorer health outcomes in the long-term.

This demonstrates that there is still much work to do to promote routine HIV testing, with HPE highlighting the role that local authorities and sexual health services can play in encouraging people to be tested regularly.

Where can I get an HIV test?

There are many ways that you can access HIV testing including via your GP, local sexual health services, and via HIV charities.

However, it is also easy to order an at-home test online.

An AlphaBiolabs HIV Test is available for just £29 and will tell you whether you have HIV-1 and HIV-2 markers, as well as the p24 early detection marker, using only a finger prick blood sample.

Simply place your order online, and we will ship your test kit out to you immediately in discreet, plain packaging. Your testing kit will contain full instructions on how to collect your blood samples and return them to our UK laboratory for analysis.

If you receive a Reactive result from an AlphaBiolabs HIV test, you MUST contact your GP or local sexual health clinic for confirmatory testing, further guidance, and treatment options as soon as possible.

You must be at least 16 years of age to purchase a home STI test from AlphaBiolabs.

IMPORTANT: If you believe you have been exposed to HIV within the past 72 hours, you should seek PEP medication from your local sexual health clinic before ordering a HIV test.

If you are experiencing symptoms that are causing severe pain or discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we advise you to contact your GP or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

For more information, call our friendly and discreet Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email health@alphabiolabs.com.

You can get involved in the conversation around HIV Testing Week on social media by using the hashtag #HIVTestingWeek.

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