A Guide to HIV Testing in the UK
HIV testing is a vital part of HIV prevention and provides an opportunity for undiagnosed people living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) to receive the support and treatment they need. HIV testing can help to identify people living with the virus and reduce their risk of transmitting it to others. In the UK, there are a number of options available for HIV testing, ranging from home testing kits to tests taken in sexual health clinics. This guide provides an overview of testing for HIV infections in the UK, the benefits of testing, and how often people should get tested.
How common is HIV in the UK?
It is estimated that around 101,200 people are living with HIV in the UK and that around 4,400 people are newly diagnosed each year. The majority of people who have HIV are gay or bisexual men or people from black African backgrounds. However, anyone can be at risk of HIV, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. HIV is a virus which is spread through unprotected anal or vaginal sex, sharing needles, and other activities which involve contact with infected bodily fluids.
What are the benefits of HIV testing?
HIV testing has a number of benefits. Firstly, it can provide peace of mind if you are concerned that you have come into sexual contact with an HIV positive person. Knowing your HIV status can help you make informed decisions about your sexual health and ensure that you are taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your partner(s).
HIV testing can also help to identify those living with the virus who may not be aware of their status. Early diagnosis is particularly important as it can help to reduce the risk of HIV transmission and ensure that HIV positive people receive proper support and treatment.
What are the different types of HIV testing?
There are several types of HIV tests including:
- Antibody Tests: These tests detect antibodies produced by the body in response to an HIV infection. Antibody tests include ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay), rapid tests, and home testing kits.
- Antigen/Antibody Tests: These tests look for both antigens (proteins produced by the virus) and antibodies in the blood. Antigen/antibody tests are also known as fourth-generation tests and are the fastest and most accurate tests available.
- Nucleic Acid Tests (NATs): These tests detect the virus itself, rather than antibodies, by looking for pieces of HIV genetic material (RNA) in the blood. NATs are highly accurate but are also the most expensive and take the longest to get results.
- Combination Tests: These tests are a combination of antibody and NAT tests and provide quick and accurate results.
- Home Testing Kits: These kits allow you to test yourself for HIV in the privacy of your own home. Results are typically available within 20 minutes to a week, depending on the type of test you use.
Remember that all HIV tests have a window period, which is the time between when a person contracts the virus and when it can be detected by a test. This window period varies on the type of test used and can range from several days to several weeks.
Who should be tested for HIV?
Anyone who is sexually active should get tested. Make looking after your sexual health a priority. This way you'll protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections, including the HIV virus. It's also helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms to help you stay healthy and safe. It's recommended that people get tested at least once every six months, or more often if they are engaging in activities which put them at risk.
How do I know if I'm at high risk of catching HIV?
There is a higher risk of HIV transmission through anal sex than vaginal sex. This is because the lining of the rectum is thinner than the lining of the vagina, making it more susceptible to tearing and allowing the virus to be transmitted more easily. However, you can pass HIV through any type of unprotected sexual contact, so it is important to always practice safe sex.
You are at particularly high risk of catching HIV if you use intravenous drugs or share needles, or have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive. You may want to consider taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication designed to prevent HIV transmission.
What happens after HIV testing?
If you are diagnosed HIV positive, you will be referred to a specialist for further testing and support. This could include determining the stage of HIV infection, as well as advice on managing HIV and reducing the risk of passing the virus to other sexual partners.
How often should I get tested for HIV?
It's best to get tested for HIV (and other STIs) at least once every six months. This is because HIV can take up to six months to show up in tests. Testing regularly ensures that any potential infections are identified and treated as soon as possible.
How can I order an HIV test?
You can order a home STI test kit from iPlaySafe. This is a quick and discreet way of testing for an HIV infection. iPlaySafe's home STI testing kits are integrated with an app, where you receive your results in the form of a ‘play badge’. You can share that info within the app with a potential sexual partner if and when you want to. Shop home STI testing kits here.
Support and resources for HIV prevention
There are a number of organisations which provide support and resources for HIV prevention including Terrence Higgins Trust, Positively UK, and the National AIDS Trust. These organisations offer advice and support on transmission, testing, and living with HIV. They are also helpful for accessing treatment and medication.
National HIV Testing week
HIV testing is an important part of the UK's HIV prevention strategy. 6th-12th February is National HIV Testing week, a campaign to promote regular testing among the most-affected population groups in England. It aims to reduce the numbers of undiagnosed people and those diagnosed late, as well as raise awareness and increase knowledge in the communities most affected by HIV, and the rest of the UK population.