How to get a free HIV test (and find out if you have the virus)

HIV testing is quick, easy and available for free on the NHS. [Photo: Getty]
HIV testing is quick, easy and available for free on the NHS. [Photo: Getty]

HIV, short for the human immunodeficiency virus, affects 89,400 people in the UK, according to dedicated charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.

The disease, which affects the immune system, can weaken sufferers’ ability to fight the disease. It can also develop into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), an umbrella term for a number of life-threatening infections which can occur when your immunity is already lowered by HIV.

This National HIV Testing Week, Prince Harry is encouraging people to get tested for the virus. In a video recorded for the awareness week, he says people should be ‘proud’ of getting tested.

“Taking an HIV test is something to be proud of – not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

“As much as you protect yourself at this time of year from illnesses and viruses like cold and flu, you can also protect your health by taking an HIV test.”

And rightly so – as early detection of the virus through testing can enable sufferers to lead a near-normal lifespan, according to the NHS.

How do you get tested for HIV?

A HIV test involves a sampling of blood or saliva to check for signs of the infection.

You can get a free finger prick blood test in a clinic (see bottom of this article on how to find your nearest centre), which can provide a positive/negative result in minutes, while a more detailed test will take a few days.

Alternatively you can buy a home testing kit online or from a pharmacy. These provide results in anything from a few minutes to days depending on the type of test.

How do I know if I need to be tested?

Many people who have HIV do not know they have it, according to the NHS website. This means anyone who thinks they have the virus should be tested.

Upon developing the virus, sufferers will experience a flu-like illness lasting one to two weeks. This will occur between two and six weeks after infection. Further symptoms may not occur for years afterwards.

High risk groups include men who have sex with men, Black African heterosexuals and people who share needles, syringes or other injecting equipment, according to the NHS.

How is HIV treated?

The condition is treated with antiretroviral medication which the sufferer needs to take every day, consisting of a combination of different drugs in tablet form.

Anyone who thinks they may have HIV should speak to their GP or visit the NHS HIV testing services website to find their nearest location.

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