HIV: Do you know your status? If not, get tested...

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HIV has NOT been cured so it is important for people who think they may be at risk to get tested.

That’s the message HIV Scotland is keen to promote this HIV Testing Week and in the run up to World AIDS Day on December 1.

Running from November 18 to November 25, testing week aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland knows their status.

Across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – one in six of whom don’t know they are living with the condition.

And the majority of new infections are passed on unknowingly by someone who has not been diagnosed.

So the most responsible thing for anyone who has sex or shares needles to do is to know their status.

Someone who knows only too well is Michael Nugent (31), from Lanarkshire.

Despite the fact he was only diagnosed in July this year, Michael has already told his family, friends and work colleagues.

And rather than being ostracised, he has been applauded for his openness.

Now, Michael is speaking out in the hope that his story will inspire others to get tested – and help prevent the spread of HIV.

Michael discovered he was HIV positive after sending away for a self-testing kit from the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Having done a test 18 months previously, which came back negative, he wasn’t unduly worried. But when the test this time came back positive, he admits to feeling terrified.

Michael said: “I was on a dating app when an ad popped up for the kit so I sent away for it and thought nothing more of it – until it arrived in the post.

“I went to get myself a cup of tea, followed the instructions and straight away, a positive result showed up.

“I thought I’d made a mistake with the kit so I went to my local health clinic.

“It was Monday, July 4, and they said I’d have to wait until Wednesday for results.

“So I went up to the doctors who joked with me that it was like Mark’s storyline in Eastenders!

“It was surreal, this guy was comparing me to a soap character but it was my life he was talking about.”

Shaking and terrified, Michael went to his sister’s where his cousin – a paramedic – insisted on taking him to Sandyford.

He still had to wait two days for the result. He spent them imagining every scenario possible.

Michael said: “On the Wednesday, my sister and I were in the room just ten seconds when I was told the result was positive.

“I just broke down – I couldn’t believe it. I was angry and disappointed at myself and wanted to kill my ex-partner because I thought he had given it to me.”

Michael immediately told his family and friends – giving them the chance to distance themselves if they wanted to. None of them did.

He also initially contemplated suicide and wanted them to know in case he followed his plan through.

However, once Michael discovered he had not passed on HIV to any of his former partners – and his ex-partner was also negative – he started finding out more about it.

And what he discovered made Michael determined to take control of the situation.

He explained: “The fact that I hadn’t passed it on meant I didn’t have that burden to carry.

“And finding out that, with treatment, the level of the virus in my body could become undetectable gave me a different outlook.

“It enabled me to take control of the condition and showed me that there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

Michael started on medication – just one tablet a day – and within four weeks the virus was undetectable.

He said: “For me, there was no choice but to get the medication. My body was dealing with the virus very well but I didn’t want to take any chances.

“The fact that my HIV is now undetectable gave me control over it.”

Speaking about his status and being honest about it has also helped Michael come to terms with it.

He added: “I work in a call centre and was one week into my training before I told the HR team about it.

“But they were fantastic when I approached them and everyone I work with has been really supportive too.

“Stay positive and know your status is my new motto.

“There’s no shame in getting tested – everyone should know their status.

“It’s a lottery who gets HIV but if you’re sexually active there’s a chance.

“Getting tested regularly ensures you’re not putting your own health – or anyone else’s – at risk.”

HIV: THE FACTS

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

HIV can affect anyone who has unprotected sex or shares drug injecting equipment – so anyone who has been at risk should get tested.

But stigma and fear surrounding HIV can put people off getting a test 
which, in turn, can result in new infections.

There are a lot of myths surrounding HIV which only help to stigmatise the disease even further.

HIV cannot be passed on through kissing, hugging or shaking hands.

HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was – with treatment, it can be managed and someone living with HIV can lead a healthy life.

As of June 30, 2016 there were 5151 people diagnosed with HIV living in Scotland.

A further 17 per cent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it.

So across Scotland, there are more than 6000 people living with HIV – around one in six don’t know they are infected.

Every day in Scotland, someone learns they are living with HIV – the numbers of new diagnosed infections has remained around the same for the last ten years.

In 2015 there were 361 new diagnoses.

Some 93 per cent of people living with HIV are already on treatment and of those on treatment 94 per cent are undetectable – meaning they cannot pass the virus on.

In the NHS Lanarkshire area, which has a population of around 652,500, 389 people were living with HIV as of June 30 this year – and 335 were receiving treatment.

Of those cases, 18 were diagnosed in 2016.

Condoms, lubricant and not sharing needles are still the best ways to protect yourself from HIV.