HIV has NOT been cured so it’s important for people who think they may be at risk to get tested.
That’s the message HIV Scotland is keen to promote this HIV Testing Week and in the run up to World AIDS Day on December 1.
The HIV testing event, from November 18 to November 25, aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland knows their status.
Across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – one in six of whom don’t know they are living with the condition.
And the majority of new infections are passed on unknowingly by someone who has never been diagnosed.
So the most responsible thing for anyone who has sex or shares needles to do is to find out their status.
To ensure that message is hitting home, NHS Grampian’s sexual health team have been busy in the last few weeks – offering tests from their mobile unit.
Denise Kazmierczak, health improvement practitioner for sexual health and blood borne viruses, said around 70 people have been tested in the last few days.
She explained: “We had our mobile information bus at Thainstone Market on Sunday, November 13.
“This opportunistic testing resulted in around 40 people having a finger prick blood test which enables us to check for Hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV.
“We also visited Aberdeen Indoor Market where around 30 people were tested in a matter of a few hours.
“On Friday, we were at Aberdeen Airport hoping to test even more people.”
NHS Grampian is also preparing to launch a new clinic, specifically for men who have sex with men.
The Exchange Clinic will open on December 1 – World AIDS Day.
Based in the Alcohol and Drugs Action base in Aberdeen’s Exchange Street, the clinic will be open every Thursday night.
As well as providing advice and information for men who sleep with men, it will also offer HIV testing.
The new drop-in clinic will be open every Thursday from 5.30pm to 8pm.
Denise said: “The service will be staffed by a member of staff from the sexual health team.
“It will provide testing for HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.”
However, Denise was keen to point out that testing is also available at all sexual health clinics in the Grampian area, as well as GP surgeries.
She added: “Everyone should be aware of their status, whether they are in a high risk group or not.
“Many people who have recently contracted HIV are asymptomatic or simply may feel a bit under the weather – with flu-like symptoms.
“Anyone who has any risk factor would be best advised to get tested so that they know their status.”
Irene Groat (55), from Aberdeen, already knows her status. She was diagnosed HIV positive on January 13, 1998 – a date which she remembers all too well.
She said: “I gave blood in December 1997 and got a letter two weeks later asking me to come back in.
“I called them at 9am the following morning and they asked me to come in at 10.30am. I knew then it was something serious but I was thinking leukaemia.
“They said there was no easy way to tell me but I was HIV positive. They tested my partner and discovered he was positive too.
“It turned out he had given it to me but there was no blame game.
“We had a five year old daughter so our first thought was her but, luckily, she was negative.”
Irene was asymptomatic so she wasn’t prescribed medication for four years.
She said: “I was in good health – I just happened to have HIV.
“I’ve always been honest about it and have been really fortunate – I’ve never had any backlash about my status.
“My daughter told all her friends at school when she was eight and she was never bullied about it either.”
Irene now takes two tablets a day and the virus is undetectable in her blood.
She suffers more from her fybromalgia and arthritis.
However, she added: “If you’re thinking about sleeping with someone, my advice is for both of you to get tested and practice safe sex.
“I wasn’t in a high risk group but I still ended up HIV positive. If you think it can’t happen to you, think again – it can happen to anyone.
“You have to take responsibility for your own sexual health.”
To raise awareness, Irene has taken part in several TV programmes and given talks at schools and hospitals.
HIV: THE FACTS
The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.
HIV can affect anyone who has unprotected sex or shares drug injecting equipment – so anyone who has been at risk should get tested.
But stigma and fear surrounding HIV can put people off getting a test which, in turn, can result in new infections.
There are a lot of myths surrounding HIV which only help to stigmatise the disease even further.
HIV cannot be passed on through kissing, hugging or shaking hands.
HIV is no longer a death sentence – with treatment, it can be managed and someone living with the condition can lead a healthy life.
As of June 30, 2016 there were 5151 people diagnosed with HIV living in Scotland.
A further 17 per cent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it.
So across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – around one in six of whom don’t know they are infected.
Every day in Scotland, someone learns they are living with HIV – the numbers of new diagnosed infections has remained around the same for the last ten years.
In 2015 there were 361 new diagnoses.
Some 93 per cent of people living with HIV are already on treatment and of those on treatment 94 per cent are undetectable – meaning they cannot pass the virus on.
In the NHS Grampian area, which has a population of around 580,000 people, 393 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – and 343 were receiving treatment. Of those cases, 12 new cases were diagnosed in 2016.
Condoms, lubricant and not sharing needles are still the best way to protect yourself.