Early testing vital for HIV

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A SEXUAL health consultant with NHS Forth Valley has urged people who think they could be at risk from HIV to get tested earlier.

Speaking ahead of World Aids Day, today, December 1, Dr Kirsty Abu-Rajab said at least 70 per cent of cases diagnosed locally over the last l2 months had shown advanced infection.

“Although the management of HIV has come a long way I am concerned that people aren’t getting tested as quickly as they should,” she said.

“Early testing results in a better prognosis if people are found to have HIV and also helps prevent further onward infection.”

It is 30 years this year since the first case of HIV was reported in the USA, leading to discovery of the virus and a simple test to detect the presence of antibodies.

It was Scotland’s response to those original reports that has led to it having the best HIV surveillance and treatment services in the world.

Scottish voluntary sector services including HIV Scotland, Waverley Care, Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men’s Health have all continued to raise awareness and campaign for improvements in prevention, testing, treatment and care.

It is currently estimated that over 5000 people in Scotland are infected with HIV with an average of 400 new cases diagnosed every year.

Due to the range of treatments available many people are able to live with HIV and manage to keep the virus under control.

David Johnson, director of Waverley Care, said: “We have come a long way since the 1980’s when rates of HIV infection amongst intravenous drug users were very high.

“The introduction of needle exchange schemes and other harm reduction measures has transformed infection rates in this community and is a real success story.

“We now need to continue the fight against HIV by cutting sexual transmission rates and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.”

HIV affects all ages. 14.5 per cent of people diagnosed in Scotland were over 45, 20 per cent were under 25. The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together.

This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test. 

70-90 per cent of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any.

After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.