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Cornwall's Hidden HIV Rates

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4:31pm 29th November 2013

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The number of people with HIV without realising in Cornwall may be double what was previously thought.

Experts in the Duchy reckon it could be around sixty more than official statistics.

They record 161 cases in Cornwall

Now there is a campaign urging people to get tested every year.

Al Green from Cornwall's health promotion service said: "If it's identified early we can put people on treatment and make sure that they are leading a life just like anyone else. But if it's left untreated it means that people will be open to infection and ultimately it can really curtail people's lives.

"People are just not aware of the infection. It's not like the 1980's when we had adverts on peak time television. HIV is one of the fastest growing long term conditions in the UK - however it's not seen anymore"

Paul Carter-King, also a sexual health worker from the Council's Health Promotion Service said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the benefits of HIV testing, and knowing your status. The Hub Sexual Health Clinic at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust now offers a 'Test No Talk' service where people who just want to be sure they're not living with a sexually transmitted infection can get tested in a quick, easy and supportive environment. Additionally we have recently launched a new website www.cornwallshac.org.uk that contains information about where people living in Cornwall can access sexual health advice, support and treatment."

"People infected with the virus can now expect a near normal lifespan and better quality of life if they are diagnosed early and access treatment. However, if left untreated or diagnosed late, HIV can be life-limiting or fatal. We have more people living in our society with HIV than ever before and we still have no cure for it. However, raising awareness will reduce new infections, and ensure people living with HIV get the treatment and support they need."

At the Sexual Health Hub patients are given a number rather than referred to by name. Patient information is not shared with GPs or other agencies unless the patient gives permission. In addition, a HIV test is offered to all who attend GU clinics, and can be requested via your GP.

Currently, routine testing for HIV is not offered to all patients accessing secondary care in Cornwall, which means occasionally cases are not diagnosed at the earliest opportunity, which ultimately can make the condition much harder to treat and manage. The Hub team is working with clinicians to routinely ask questions and offer HIV testing to patients, and it's important that people take responsibility for getting themselves tested.

Councillor Judith Haycock, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Care, said; "This new service from the Hub is a great way for people to get tested for HIV and establish their status. There is anonymity, so people needn't be embarrassed. Getting tested regularly is the best way of protecting yourself from HIV, and is a responsible step to protect your sexual partners. Some people believe that only certain sections of our diverse community are at risk of HIV infection. However, HIV doesn't discriminate - it doesn't care if you are gay or heterosexual, rich or poor, aged eighteen or eighty. It is usually passed on through unprotected sex, and we need to recognise the warning signs and fight the discrimination and myths associated with the virus."

To contact the Hub Sexual Health Clinic call 01872 255044.

At-risk groups

The at-risk groups highlighted by Public Health England are men who have sex with men (MSM) and the black African community. Their recommendations are:

Men who have sex with men should have an HIV and STI screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners.

Black-African men and women have an HIV test, and a regular HIV and STI screen if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners.

For everyone - Always use a condom correctly and consistently, and until all partners have had a sexual health screen.

Reduce the number of sexual partners and avoid overlapping sexual relationships.

Unprotected sex between partners who are both HIV positive carries a high risk of acquiring other STIs and Hepatitis C.

Unprotected sex between partners who both believe themselves to be HIV negative carries a high risk of HIV transmission, as a quarter of HIV positive men who have sex with men are unaware of their infection, as well as acquiring STIs.

Symptoms and impact

Around 50 per cent of people who contract HIV will experience Glandular Fever/ flu like symptoms in the early weeks after exposure, but half will not. With problems only arising months or often years down the line, it is important to get tested early on if you think you may have been put at risk. In fact unprotected sexual intercourse (i.e. without a condom) including oral sex, sharing a needle or from mother to child while in the womb, are the only ways you can contract HIV. It is not possible to 'catch' HIV from sharing a toilet or toothbrush, or kissing.

In the past, problems getting insurance or a mortgage have put people off being tested but these things are now less of a problem. Companies now should only ask if a person has had a positive HIV test, and rather than being a reason for a refusal, it may now mean having to pay a slightly higher premium, bringing HIV in line with other long-term health conditions.

World AIDS Day - 1 December

To raise awareness of AIDS, Cornwall's Health Promotion Service is encouraging everyone to mark World AIDS Day on 1 December. They want everyone to raise awareness with friends and loved ones by sending a text or email to raise awareness of HIV at 11am. There is information on the Healthy Gay Cornwall web page giving a suggestion of the text to use, and reasons to wear the red AIDS awareness ribbon:

http://www.healthygaycornwall.org.uk/health-wellbeing/sexual-health/

4:31pm 29th November 2013

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