Linda Panton: Early diagnosis key to HIV management

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HIV is a virus. Unlike other viruses that cause colds and flu, HIV remains with you for life.

There is no cure, however, modern anti-HIV medication is really effective at keeping the virus under control and prevents it attacking your immune system. So if someone is diagnosed early and begins treatment, it is likely that they will enjoy a normal life expectancy.

There are now more than 1500 people living with HIV in Lothian, and fortunately the majority of them access the care and treatment that is available in either of our two specialised centres. In Lothian, and indeed Scotland, we can be proud of the fact that we are able to provide a high standard of care and successfully get people on medication, and keep them on it.

Unfortunately, about a quarter of the people living with HIV in Scotland are unaware that they have it, which means they aren’t accessing treatment. Therefore, they are putting their long term health at risk, and could also unknowingly pass on the infection to someone else.

All too often people are diagnosed far too late. This can be because they don’t think they have ever been at risk of HIV or they are scared of what might happen if the result is positive. In our clinics, we have patients from all walks of life.

Early testing and diagnosis helps people to manage their HIV and also reduces the risk of passing it on to other people. If it is not detected early, HIV can lead to serious, possibly life-threatening health problems. Nowadays, it can be as easy as taking one or two pills a day, with very little side-effects. And we want that for everyone who is living with HIV so they can keep healthy, have relationships, have a family, and lead a normal life.

As part of European HIV Testing Week, which runs from November 20-27, the Regional Infectious Diseases Unit, ward 41, Western General Hospital is running testing sessions each day. Phone reception on (0131)-537 2820 and book your test. You can also get a test from your GP or the Chalmers Centre and of course all services are confidential. Additionally, we are really pleased to make the public aware that from this week a 60-second free HIV blood spot test will be available at some of our specialist services.

Further information on all services which offer free and confidential HIV testing, in many different settings, can be found at www.lothiansexualhealth.scot.nhs.uk.

I would like to encourage as many people as possible to have a test– if we reduce the number of people undiagnosed, we can decrease the number becoming infected.

• Linda Panton is nurse specialist at NHS Lothian