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Talking HIV: Your Mates and You

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HIV: Your mates and you

On average, from the time of infection, it takes about four years for someone to become aware they are living with HIV. In order to close this window, we need to be talking more about HIV, writes David Crawford.

It’s been a remarkable year so far for the prevention and treatment of HIV in NSW. But are we ‘talking’ to all the right people we can to end HIV transmissions? Did you know on average from time of infection with HIV that it takes four and half years for someone to become aware they are living with HIV? During this time they may have passed HIV onto other people. We also know that some people, particularly those who don’t identify as being at risk of HIV, are presenting much later and are sicker when they find out they are HIV positive. There is a current estimate of over 1,500 people who don’t know they are living with HIV in NSW.

The best way to identify who might be in this group is anyone who is having sex, particularly casual sex with multiple partners and who might also have another sexually transmitted infection.

I think it’s important to think about why people are not getting regularly tested for HIV? Why is it taking so long to ‘close the window’ on this 4.5 year gap? And are we ‘talking’ to all the people we can about ending HIV in NSW?

People diagnosed today are expected to live long and healthy lives with little impact from their HIV. In contrast people who are not regularly engaged with healthcare or are unaware they have HIV are more likely to present to their doctor with advanced HIV disease. The START Study shows without question that beginning HIV treatment sooner leads to better health outcomes. There are also a number of published studies that show when people with HIV are on effective treatment, they are highly unlikely to pass on HIV. In short, this is good news for people living with and affected by HIV.

There are many reasons for people not getting tested for HIV. Some people living with HIV simply don’t know or think that they are not part of a risk group. Another factor for people not getting tested is the fear of knowing. If you are frightened, concerned or worried about having a HIV test, speak to a HIV peer organisation or a professional to explore these fears. Talking about your concerns will do a lot to resolve fears and get support to have a test.

Most of us have had the same fear of ‘what if?’ The introduction of rapid testing has increased the number of HIV tests. However, these are mostly on people who have previously tested for HIV. We need to have more people getting tested regularly for HIV. The four and a half year gap is an important window for us to close in terms of ending HIV.

Another group is people who find out they have HIV but don’t go back to tell previous partners about their ‘new’ diagnosis. Telling previous partners they have tested positive for HIV, alerts others they might be infected. This process is called ‘contact tracing’. Reasons for not telling previous partners include not knowing how to talk about it, fear of reprisals and no contact details for their previous fucks. For many people, dealing with their new HIV diagnosis is a much higher priority over following up on all their contacts.

Most people are appreciative of being told they have been put at risk. This allows them to follow-up with their doctor to get a comprehensive HIV and sexual health screen and may even prevent further serious outcomes of other undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections. For these people, they have the chance to access preventative treatments such as Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) or think about starting Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

Positive Life is working with HIV service partners to enhance contact tracing, a program aimed at supporting people through the early stages of a HIV diagnosis. Making decisions to start treatments sooner rather than later, helping people negotiate the complex space of following up and or notifying previous sexual or drug using partners. Let’s close the window on that gap of four and half years between infection and diagnosis particularly if you have recently been diagnosed with HIV and need to encourage your partners to test.

[Top image] Image used for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Shutterstock

More information on:

The Start Study http://i-base.info/start-study/
PEP www.thealbioncentre.org.au/helplines-hotlines/pep-hotline/
PrEP www.positivelife.org.au/latest-news/prep-access-options.html
Where to get a test www.health.nsw.gov.au/sexualhealth/Pages/sexual-health-clinics.aspx
Contact Positive Life NSW www.positivelife.org.au

Also at GNN/SX 22 June 2015

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  • Guest
    Sharing Isn't Always Caring Thursday, 29 October 2015

    Hi, I think this was a really interesting article. It is becoming increasingly important to bridge the gap between the time you have been infected until the time you finally get treated. I am currently campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of needle in order to prevent the spread of harmful diseases. However, encouraging people to use the correct equipment can prove to be a difficult task and therefore, i have also encouraged readers to make sure they seek treatment immediately if they suspect that they have been infected with a virus. It is important to change the stigma around HIV and instead of showing judgement to others, it is vital that we learn to accept and offer help to those who need it.

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