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NHS Choices Condition

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HIV can be very difficult to diagnose from the symptoms alone. Sometimes, even specialists who are experienced in treating HIV can mistake the symptoms for another condition.

Therefore, if you are in a high-risk group for catching HIV (see below), it is very important that you have a HIV test. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.

In the past, many people were reluctant to take a HIV test because they thought that if they were diagnosed with the condition, there was nothing that could be done to help them. However, this is not true and there are now medicines available that can slow the progress of HIV and effectively manage the condition.

Risk groups

People who are at risk of catching HIV include:

  • gay men who have had unprotected sex,
  • people who have lived in or travelled extensively in sub-Saharan Africa,
  • people who have had sex with a person who has lived in or travelled in sub-Saharan Africa,
  • people who inject illegal drugs,
  • people who have had sex with somebody who has injected illegal drugs,
  • people who have caught another sexually transmitted infection, or
  • people who have received a blood transfusion while in Africa, eastern Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union, Asia, or central and southern America.

HIV testing

HIV can be diagnosed by testing your blood for the presence of the virus. However, the test will only detect HIV after three months have passed since the initial infection.

If you have a test before three months has passed, it is recommended that you have another test once it has been three months since you were exposed to the HIV infection.

You should not assume that any previous blood test that you have had was used to check for the presence of HIV. Blood is only tested for HIV if you specifically consent to testing.

The results of your HIV test will remain strictly confidential. However, if you are diagnosed with HIV and you have health or life insurance, your insurance company will have to be informed.

You should usually not have to pay for an HIV test.

Receiving a positive test

If you receive a positive HIV test, you will be referred to a HIV clinic. A HIV clinic is specialist health unit that is staffed by many different professionals who specialise in helping people who are living with HIV.

HIV clinic staff may include:

  • a counsellor,
  • a social worker,
  • a dietician,
  • a dentist,
  • specialist doctors with experience in treating HIV,
  • emergency 'walk-in' doctors, and
  • a pharmacist.

Telling your partner and former partners

If you do have HIV, it is important that your current sexual partner, or any sexual partner that you have had since being exposed to infection, is tested and treated.

If you don't tell your sex partner(s) and if you then have unsafe sex and infect someone, they could decide to prosecute you.

Some people can feel angry, upset or embarrassed about discussing HIV with their current or former partner, or partners. You should not be afraid to discuss your concerns with your GP or the clinic staff. They will be able to advise you about who should be contacted and the best way to contact them.

With your permission, your clinic will be to arrange for a 'contact slip' to be given to your former partner or partners. The slip explains that they may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, and advises them to have a check-up. The slip does not have your name on it, and your details will remain totally confidential.

Nobody can force you to tell any of your partners about your HIV, but it is strongly recommended that you do. Left untested and untreated, HIV can have devastating consequences and will eventually lead to death.

Telling your boss

People with HIV are protected under the Disability Discrimination Act. But to gain this protection, your employer must know of your diagnosis. Whether you choose to tell them will often depend on how you think they will take it. There’s no legal obligation to tell your employer you have HIV, although equally there is no law to stop them from asking you.

You may worry that, if you do tell, your HIV status will become public knowledge or that you may be discriminated against. On the other hand, if your boss is supportive, telling him or her may make it easier for adjustments to be made to your workload or for you to have time off.

If you are applying for a new job, you need to decide whether to disclose information on the application form if you are asked for it. If you are asked and you don’t, this could be construed as ‘a breach of mutual trust’.

If you work in healthcare, you must tell your occupational health physician and avoid performing invasive procedures. The HIV organisations have lots of information and can advise you on these and other work-related issues.

view information about HIV on www.nhs.co.uk »

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The information provided on this website (including any NHS Choices medical information) is for use as information or for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. We do not warrant that any information included within this site will meet your health or medical requirements. This Embarrassing Bodies site does not provide any medical or diagnostic services so you should always check with a health professional if you have any concerns about your health.

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