1 in 5 British Citizens with HIV Don’t Know They Have It

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Public Health England has warned that in the UK, almost one in five people with HIV are unaware they have the virus, which is why PHE has launched home test kits in a bid to tackle the problem.

People at a high risk of contracting HIV can now order a home-sampling test kit online. The kit works through the use of a finger-prick blood sample.

HIV is a lentivirus, which means it tends to have a long period of incubation. It targets the immune system and weakens defence systems against some types of cancer and infections.

People with HIV gradually become immunodeficient as the virus impairs and destroys the function of immune cells.

As a result of this immunodeficiency, the body becomes more susceptible to a wide range of diseases and infections that those with a healthy immune system can usually fight off successfully. The virus can progress to AIDS within 2-15 years of infection. By this point the immune system is damaged so badly that it struggles to fight off even minor illnesses. If an infection is picked up, life expectancy can be as short as one year.

PHE released figures that have revealed about 103,700 people are living with HIV, but 18,000 don’t know they are and could therefore unwittingly pass the virus on to other people.

The statistics have been revealed just a day after American actor Charlie Sheen made public that fact that he is HIV positive.

Last year, 3,360 homosexual men were diagnosed with the virus and this is highest number ever recorded in England.

In 2014, 6,151 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK overall. In 2013, this figure was 6,032. 75% of new diagnoses were in men, with 25% of cases in women.

Over the past few years, treatments have significantly improved and when the virus is caught early, people can have a life expectancy that almost matches that of people who are free of HIV. However, 40% of people are still being diagnosed at too late a stage, meaning that any medication won’t be effective in the long term.

Jane Ellison, Public Health Minister, said that great strides have been made with regards to HIV treatment and people speaking out about their condition helps to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus. She added that until HIV is a thing of the past, there is more to be done.

Ms Ellison hopes the launch of the National HIV Home Sampling service will encourage those at risk to find out their HIV status so they can get the appropriate care for their partners and themselves.

She went on to say that the Innovation Fund also identifies new ways to approach the problem.

Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE, Professor Kevin Fenton, said that despite the decline in national HIV rates, the problem is still growing within certain communities and levels of HIV testing remains low among people at higher risks.

With national HIV Testing Week coming up, Professor Fenton encourages all those at a higher risk to seriously consider testing, especially now that home sampling kits can be ordered online.