National HIV Testing Week: How to get yourself checked for HIV

Sarah Young, Olivia Petter

Right now there are more than 100,000 people in the UK living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the incurable illness that damages the cells in the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight everyday infections.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the name given to describe the potentially life-threatening infections that can happen as a result of an immune system that has been damaged by the HIV virus and early diagnosis is crucial to prevent these from developing.

National HIV Testing Week, which runs from 16 to 22 November 2019, aims to encourage people to get tested, particularly those from the groups most affected by HIV, including gay and bisexual men and black African men and women.

This year the campaign, which encourages people to give HIV the finger by taking a quick and painless finger-prick HIV test, is coordinated by the Terrence Higgins Trust – a charity that campaigns on and provides services relating to HIV and sexual health – on behalf of HIV Prevention England and includes famous faces such as This Morning’s Dr Ranj and E4’s The Sex Clinic nurse Sarah Mulindwa.

"Getting tested is nothing to be worried about – I’ve been tested in the past and it’s quick and easy," Dr Ranj says.

"You’ll be in a better situation knowing your status than not knowing. With effective treatment, people living with HIV can not only live long healthy lives but they can’t pass it on to others."

To mark National HIV Testing Week, here’s everything you need to know about how to get yourself checked for HIV, including how to do it at home

Visit your GP

Your GP surgery will be able to carry out a free HIV test if you request one.

This will involve taking a sample of your blood or saliva, which will then be sent off to a laboratory and examined for infection.

Many clinics will be able to offer you your results on the same day, others will do so within a few days.

Your GP will be able to discuss next steps with you and whether or not you should take emergency HIV medication, which, if taken within 72 hours of coming into contact with the virus, may stop you becoming infected.

You could also get tested at a private clinic, but you would have to pay.

Click here to find your nearest HIV testing clinic.

Visit a sexual health clinic

You can also get tested at a sexual health clinic, either as a standalone test or as part of a comprehensive STI examination that will include checking for infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, though the tests themselves are different for these.

Click here to find your nearest sexual health clinic.

Visit a testing centre run by a charity

There are a number of UK-based charities offering free testing services across the country.

For example, the Terrence Higgins Trust is one of the largest HIV and sexual health service providers in the UK and runs testing services out of local centres in cities and towns everywhere.

Click here to find one near you.

Request an at-home HIV testing kit

If you can’t make it to a clinic, you can now request at-home sampling or testing kits from a number of providers.

The sampling kit involves collecting a small saliva or blood sample at home and sending it off in the post for testing. You’ll get your results by phone or text a few days later.

Check test.hiv to see if you’re eligible for a free kit. If not, you can buy one online or from a selection of pharmacies.

Not to be confused with a home sampling kit, you can also get a home testing kit that allows you to collect a saliva or blood sample and test it yourself, offering results within minutes.

But it’s crucial with these tests to check that it has a CE quality assurance mark and has been licensed for sale in the UK, as the NHS warns that HIV self-test kits purchased from abroad can be low quality.

For more information about HIV testing and what to do if you get a positive result, visit the NHS website here.