If the best part of life is good health, then we should know everything there is about staying healthy.
If you are young, old, married, single go to church or mosque, or neither, you can be equipped with the right knowledge.
So if I asked you about PEP or PrEP? What would it mean to you?
OK. Let’s try another question. If a friend mentioned about U=U, would you know what they mean?
HIV? What does that conjure up?
HIV can seem scary to talk about. However, advances in HIV treatment mean people who are infected can live a normal, healthy life, with minimal complications. Modern HIV medicine means that those taking treatment for their HIV regularly cannot pass it on to others. And there is also a medicine available to prevent HIV infection in the first place.
All too often we read data relating to HIV and BAME communities in the UK who are overrepresented and disproportionately affected with STIs and HIV compared to the rest of the population. According to Public Health England data 2017, 45% of those accessing HIV treatment are BAME (Black African Caribbean, Asian and other ethnic minorities) and 55% are white.
I have worked in sexual health services for over 10 years and have seen lots of exciting changes in what is available. In order to understand the facts, I spoke with Dr Ruth Taylor, who is a Consultant in Sexual health and HIV in Nottingham, and asked her about some of these questions.
Why is it important to know your HIV status?
‘The sooner we know someone has HIV, the earlier we can start treatment. Late diagnosis can mean poorer long-term health outcomes, but effective treatment means people living with HIV can have normal, healthy lives. Anyone can get HIV, but we know some people are more at risk. This includes BAME people, whether born in the UK or overseas.’
What is U=U?
“Undetectable=Untransmittable. This means that someone who has been on effective HIV treatment for at least 6 months cannot pass on HIV through sex, even without condoms. There have been very large scientific studies proving this so reliably that it is now part of national guidance. This is a real ‘game changer’ for us in HIV care, and we want to make sure everyone is aware of it.”
How else can we prevent HIV infections?
“If you know you don’t have HIV, then there are some steps you can take to prevent infection. The most important one is regularly HIV testing, and using condoms if you can, particularly where you don’t know your partners’ status.
There is also PEP – this stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. This involves medicines taken within 3 days after you might have been at risk of getting HIV, to prevent you getting infected. A risk might be unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, but is not on treatment, or who doesn’t know their own HIV status. We know that most HIV infections originate from people who actually don’t know their status.
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