What is HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which attacks a person’s immune system. There is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but there are medicines available which help people with HIV to keep well and live healthier lives. If untreated HIV can damage the immune system over time leaving it unable to fight off infections, this can lead to AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome which describes a combination of potentially life-threatening infections and cancers, which can develop when someone’s immune system has been damaged by HIV.
HIV treatment works by reducing the amount of HIV in someone’s blood to let their immune system work properly. If a person responds well and adheres to their treatment they may greatly reduce the chances of passing the virus on to their partners. Treatment is constantly improving and currently involves between 1 and 4 tablets a day.
Having an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV. Many people do not know they are living with HIV until they become ill from prolonged damage to their immune system. The sooner someone is diagnosed with HIV the sooner they can start on treatment which will keep them well.
How is HIV passed from person to person?
HIV is found in blood, genital fluids semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. To become infected with HIV these infected body fluids must pass into a person’s bloodstream.
In the UK HIV is most commonly passed from person to person:
- By having anal or vaginal sex without a condom.
- By sharing needles or injecting equipment
- From mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
- HIV can affect both men and women of all ages, ethnicities and religions. It is most commonly transmitted through anal and vaginal sex without a condom.
HIV testing in Sefton Sexual Health Service
The only way to know if you have HIV is to have a test. All Sefton Sexual Health clinics can offer a free and confidential HIV test. The test involves taking a small amount of blood from your arm. The results will become available from the clinic in two weeks time.
The most accurate results from the test come from blood taken three months after the exposure to HIV. However, a test can also be taken after 4 weeks if you are concerned that you have been at risk.
If it has been within 72 hours since you think you have been exposed to HIV then please contact Sefton Sexual Health, A&E or any sexual health service in order to enquire about PEPSE (post exposure prophylaxis for HIV).
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis against HIV)
We are pleased that Sefton Sexual Health Service now does offer support for people wanting PrEP . Please make an appointment to see a doctor on our appointments telephone number 01695 656550. For more information and to purchase PrEP please see this website.
Self-assessment for HIV risk
Not sure if you are at risk of contracting HIV? Use these two links which take you through a step by step self-assessment.
For more information please see Living with HIV.
A fast track referral form is also available in the section professionals only referral forms and downloads.
New Information on Viral Hepatitis
What is Viral Hepatitis
Hepatitis A, B and C are viruses that can harm the liver which is one of the organs in the body responsible for clearing toxins. The liver is situated on the top right-hand side of the abdomen. The harm caused can lead to liver failure which may result in chronic illness or death. Sometimes the body can clear the virus itself but at other times treatment may be needed. In some cases, a liver transplant is required. Viral hepatitis can affect anybody.
Symptoms of viral hepatitis
Viral hepatitis may be asymptomatic but symptoms may include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle ache
- Diarrhoea and vomiting (Hepatitis A only)
Viral Hepatitis testing
The test involves taking a small amount of blood from your arm. The results will become available from the clinic in two weeks’ time.
How Viral Hepatitis is spread
Hepatitis A is caught through the faecal-oral route. This means it can be caught through infected food, oral and anal sex/rimming/fingering. Poor hand washing can also encourage spread as small amounts of faeces may be transferred into the mouth.
Hepatitis B and C, like HIV, can be acquired:
- By having anal or vaginal sex
- By sharing needles or injecting equipment
- From mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding
How to reduce the spread of Viral Hepatitis
Currently, there is an outbreak of Hepatitis A among men who have sex with men in parts of the United Kingdom.
The best way to reduce the risk of transmission of:
Hepatitis A – use condoms, dental dams and good hand washing technique.
Hepatitis B & C – use condoms and not sharing needles.
There are vaccinations available against Hepatitis A and B. Currently, the Hepatitis B vaccine is offered to men who have sex with men, victims of a sexual assault, commercial sex workers and their clients.
We are now offering Hepatitis A vaccination to unvaccinated men who have sex who men following an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak among men who have sex with men which started in 2016 in London.
If you feel you are at risk of contracting Hepatitis B due to contact with the virus in the last 7 days, you should attend A&E for treatment as soon as possible. Hepatitis B vaccination can also offer some protection if given up to 6 weeks following contact.