No-one is immune from risk of HIV and everyone should get themselves tested

HIV testing is quick and easy.
HIV testing is quick and easy.

A new campaign to drive down the number of people diagnosed late with HIV means people will soon be able to test themselves at home.

And it’s not just those from certain groups and backgrounds that are at risk from the virus, everyone should get themselves tested says a leading sexual health worker.

Suzanne Bannister from Herts Aid.

Suzanne Bannister from Herts Aid.

Hertfordshire has a higher than average rate of people being diagnosed late with the potentially life-threatening condition, which means they’re ten times more likely to die from the illness or complications caused by the virus.

Many of those being diagnosed late do not come under the typical at risk groups but are heterosexual white women, proving that everyone should be aware of the life changing about infection.

Sexual health charity Herts Aid director Suzanne Bannister said: “If people are diagnosed early and they get HIV treatment they can maintain a healthy, normal life and the chances of infecting someone else are less than one per cent.

“From every single angle the message is if you get diagnosed early that is the best possible outcome.

“HIV is not a death sentence anymore.”

The statistics have prompted Herts County Council to sign up to the national ‘Half it’ campaign.

Late diagnosis is when someone’s CD4 count - an indicator of how well the immune system is working - is already less than 350.

In Hertfordshire this diagnosis rate is slightly above the national average - 51.7 per cent compared to 45 per cent nationally.

Between 2011 and 2013, 12 people in Dacorum were diagnosed late with HIV and in the same year, 115 people were living in the borough with the condition.

Across the whole of Hertfordshire, 1,105 people were living with HIV and there are around 50 to 60 new diagnoses each year.

Very late diagnoses is when someone’s CD4 count is less than 200 and it is likely that the person will already have some sort of associated illness, which has led to them being tested for HIV.

Suzanne said: “We are trying to reach as many people as possible in as many different ways as possible.”

High risk groups are men who sleep with other men and those from black African groups, but Suzanne said everyone should get tested.

“There is still so much stigma surrounding HIV so people don’t like to get tested,” she said.

“We are really trying to normalise the testing.

“HIV can affect anybody. The realities are that if you have never had a HIV test and you have had unprotected sex it would be advisable to have a test.

“It’s 10 minutes of your life.”

The council is working with Herts Aid to make HIV testing more accessible through GPs, pharmacies, healthcare and community settings.

From November 21 - National HIV Testing Week - a HIV home sampling service will be rolled out in the county, which will enable people to order a kit to be mailed to an address of their choice and return it to a laboratory for testing, entirely free of charge.

Those diagnosed early with HIV can live healthy and full lives thanks to triple combination therapy - the use of highly active anti-viral medication - which became widely available from 1996.

To find out more visit www.hertsaid.co.uk.