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HEALTH


as 25% of people with HIV in the UK don’t know they have it. A person may think they’re HIV negative, but this doesn’t mean it’s actually the case. It’s always best to use a condom during sex.


Can you get HIV by kissing? HIV cannot be passed on from holding hands, hugging, drinking from someone else’s cup or bottle, or from someone sneezing, coughing, spitting or scratching you. Kissing, mutual masturbation and other non-penetrative sexual practices are regarded as safe – just be careful not to allow ejaculate near open wounds or bleeding sores. Being infected with one sexually-transmitted disease (gonorrhoea, syphilis, etc) can make infection easier, which is why it’s recommended all gay men have a regular sexual health check-up, whether they have symptoms or not.


Now that there is treatment, does it matter if you become infected with HIV? It’s far better for your health to remain HIV-negative (i.e. not infected with the virus). Being HIV-positive means that you will, at some stage, need to begin treatment that you will be on for the rest of your life. Treatment often has side effects, some long-term, and taking daily medication and going for regular check-ups can also be demoralising. It’s been found that some taking treatment for many years may


be more prone to developing age-onset illnesses such as heart disease earlier than expected. There also, sadly, remains a stigma around HIV-positive people who can experience discrimination or rejection because of their status, leading to depression.


Why can’t I just wait until I fall ill to get tested for HIV? Putting off an HIV test until you fall ill with an HIV-related illness is one of the worst things you can do! Despite treatment, people with HIV can still die, and the majority who do in the UK are the ones who don’t know that they are HIV-positive. By the time they find out, it’s too late for effective treatment. Those who find out that they are HIV-positive within a few months of infection, and have regular check- ups, have the best chance of leading a long, illness-free life. Someone diagnosed with HIV today at 35,


and treated early, has a life expectancy of over 72. It is important to know your HIV status to prevent passing the infection on. Most new infections are passed on by people who don’t know they have HIV. Modern HIV tests are quick and easy, returning results within minutes.


How often should I be testing for HIV? It is advisable for gay men to have an HIV test at least once a year, and more often if you’ve put yourself at risk.


How common is HIV? More than 90,000 people in the UK have HIV – three times as many as ten years ago. The number is expected to top 100,000 this year.


Isn’t it a myth that mostly gay men are affected by HIV? No – sadly not. In the general population HIV affects roughly one in 900 people, but in the gay community it’s 1 in 20. In London around one in 10 gay men are HIV-positive, and one in eight in Brighton. Around a quarter of gay men with HIV do not know they have it.


How can I find out more? Book an appointment at a sexual health clinic and speak to a nurse, doctor or advisor. Alternatively, you can call the Terrence Higgins Trust Helpline on 0808 802 1221 (free to callers from UK landlines and most mobile networks and won’t appear on phone bills). You can also find out more information at the following websites: www.hivaware.org.uk/ www.gmfa.org.uk www.tht.org.uk


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WITH THANKS TO NAT FOR ASSISTANCE WITH THIS FEATURE - WWW.NAT.ORG.UK/


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