What you need to know
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus which attacks the body’s immune system. As the immune system becomes weaker, this can lead to difficulty fighting off certain types of infections.
Undiagnosed people living with HIV may therefore be at risk of developing serious infections if they do not receive treatment.
With antiretroviral therapy however, HIV can be easily controlled and allow people living with the virus to live healthily with a normal life expectancy.
Less than 5% of the estimated 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK do not know that they have the virus. Of those who are diagnosed, more than 95% of people are on treatment leading to successful control of the virus. When a person living with HIV is on effective treatment, levels of the virus in the blood are so low that the virus can no longer be detectable and damage the immune system – this is called being ‘undetectable’. A person with an ‘undetectable viral load’ cannot pass HIV on through sex.
In Bromley the rates of HIV are around the national average of 2 per 1,000 people. You can have a HIV test even if you do not have any signs and symptoms.
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a combination of commonly used anti-HIV drugs taken by an HIV negative person, to reduce the risk of getting HIV. It is recommended to people who are at high risk of HIV. Find out more about PrEP.
Signs and symptoms
Sometimes symptoms can occur just after being infected with HIV – this is called primary HIV infection or seroconversion and at this time people can be highly infectious if they have unprotected sex.
The symptoms of primary infection are similar to flu:
• sore throat
• high temperature
After seroconversion has taken place, a person can be well and have no symptoms for a long time. This is a time when people with HIV can still be infectious to others and often remain undiagnosed.
Tests and treatment
If you are over 16 and live in Bromley (or another participating borough) you can get a free HIV test kit from the Sexual Health London website
If you are under 16 you will need to attend the Beckenham Beacon sexual health clinic.
Six weeks after coming into contact with HIV, it is detectable in blood. This is known as the window period. HIV can be passed on during this time, even though it cannot be detected.
You should always get tested if you are worried that you might have come into contact with HIV, whether it was a long time ago or a few weeks ago. It is better to know you have HIV so you can get the right treatment earlier.
Although HIV can affect anyone from any community, there are population groups in the UK who are at increased risk of HIV infection. This includes:
- gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men)
- people from Black African community groups
- people who share injecting equipment for taking recreational (e.g. heroin) and/or performance enhancing drugs (e.g. steroids)
- sexual partners of people who are living with HIV
Urgent HIV treatment
If you have had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone in the last three days (72 hours) who is HIV positive or who has a high chance of having HIV, your doctor or nurse may recommend taking a short course of anti-HIV drugs known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
PEP is the name of the treatment given to people who may have been exposed to HIV. The aim is to try and prevent you from getting the virus. A combination of medicines is used for four weeks. It is more effective the sooner you take it.
If you think you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, you can go to: Beckenham Beacon sexual health clinic or to A&E if it is out of hours.
Living with HIV, care and support
In Bromley, service users have access to a highly specialist HIV nursing team. Our team is integrated with the King's College Hospital HIV service including specialist doctors, HIV consultants and pharmacists to support patients living with HIV.
You can contact the Specialist HIV Community Nurses on 01689 866647.
Please follow the links below to pages that may provide helpful information for you including advice on how to live with HIV and where to access wider support:
- Positively UK provides peer-led support, advocacy and information to women, men and young people living with HIV to manage any aspect of their diagnosis, care and managing life with HIV
- HIV i-Base is a treatment activist group that provides information about HIV treatment to HIV positive people and to health care professionals
- The Terrence Higgins Trust is a charity which has supported people living with HIV for decades and aims to improve the nation’s sexual health
- Access a comprehensive store of information on the NHS website
- The National AIDS Trust champions the rights of people living with AIDS
- The Gay Men’s Health Project provides frank advice and support including information on HIV prevention and how to improve your sexual health
- London Friend is a site providing support, particularly for gay/bisexual men using “chems”, or alcohol which may be impacting on their decisions about sex and relationships