As World Aids day has been and gone once again, the sexual health team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London is encouraging their gay and bisexual patients to test regularly for HIV.

Robert Palmer, Lead Advisor and Specialist Psychotherapist at the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Department of Sexual Health, says:

For most of our patients, regularly might be once or perhaps twice a year. However, we would really like our patients to test even more often if they are at high risk of infection.

Testing is so very simple these days. Gone are the tests that need to be sent off to the lab, with results returning in a few weeks – now, very sensitive tests can be performed while the patient is in the room, and a result given in less than a minute. Your time in the clinic is greatly reduced from a few years ago, and the accuracy of the tests have improved immensely.

By very regular testing, anyone who tests positive would be seen much earlier after infection, perhaps even during their seroconversion (when the body begins to produce an immune response to the HIV virus). Such intervention may mean access to drug trials that are beginning to show that early treatment may be helpful to the long term health of the individual, by blocking HIV’s ability to damage the immune system. The other reason why we emphasise more regular testing, is that we know that those who are seroconverting are super infectious, and are fuelling the continuing HIV epidemic. So very regular testing would mean looking after your health, and also looking after the health of others.

There are two other services we’d like to remind people of:

  • PEP is available to anyone who has had sex which is considered to be high risk for HIV infection. Taking this treatment as soon after the episode of sex that concerns you, and certainly within 72 hours, PEP may protect you from HIV infection. It’s available from all sexual health clinics in the UK, and out of hours, most A&E departments stock PEP packs.
  • The PROUD study is still recruiting participants. This study is really important, and looks at a way of reducing HIV transmission by giving negative men a daily tablet of an HIV treatment. In other studies, this treatment has been shown to halve HIV infections. More men are needed to help with this research.