HIV: support with testing, treatment and staying safe

Find out about HIV, if you’re in a vulnerable position and how to access HIV testing and treatment. 

What is HIV? 

HIV is a virus that weakens your immune system. It is passed on through some bodily fluids.  

HIV treatment is very effective, and people who test positive for HIV can lead full, healthy lives. People who have effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load can’t pass the virus on.  

AIDS is not the same thing as HIV. AIDS is a series of illnesses that can be caused by HIV, but modern treatment means very few people living with HIV get these illnesses.  

Some people are in a more vulnerable position than others.  


HIV and injecting 

People who inject drugs are especially vulnerable to HIV. Sharing needles and other paraphernalia (straws/notes) can pass on blood borne viruses such as hepatitis and HIV.  

If you do inject, never let anyone else inject you. Never share needles or other equipment, or reuse needles more than once. 

Read more of our advice for safer injecting

You can use a needle exchange service to get free clean needles, equipment and advice.  

Find out more about needle exchange services


HIV and chemsex  

People who use drugs as part of their sex life are vulnerable to HIV. 

If you’re under the influence of drugs you might not use a condom, which can put you at risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Chemsex drugs will sometimes lead to people having rougher sex than usual, which can cause bleeding. 

You can protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections by using barrier protection (condoms, dental dams, PrEP and PEP). You should also have regular sexual health checks. 

Find out more about chemsex and how to stay safe

Getting tested for HIV 

It is important to get tested if you are in a vulnerable group, or if you think you might have acquired HIV. 

If you’re using one of our services and are worried about HIV or hepatitis, you can get free, easy access to testing for blood borne viruses, including an HIV test. Speak to your key worker who can support and advise you on how to get this done. 

If you're not in treatment but use one of our needle exchanges, you can also get tested there. 

If you're not using one of our services, you can usually get tested for blood borne viruses via your doctor or a sexual health clinic. 


Treating and preventing HIV 

With testing and the right treatment, people living with HIV can lead happy and healthy lives.  

HIV treatment usually involves a combination of medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART).  

If you are taking ART medication, it’s important to adhere to your prescription and take it regularly. If you take it inconsistently and keep missing your medication, it can stop being effective.  

There are also drugs you can take to reduce your risk of HIV: 

PrEP is a drug you take before and after sex to reduce your risk of getting HIV. You can get it free on the NHS from sexual health clinics.  

PEP is a drug you can take up to 72 hours after you’ve come into contact with the HIV virus. It can stop you from getting the virus. PEP is available on the NHS, but only if you meet certain criteria.   

Some HIV medications can interact with various drugs. The interaction can make the effects of the drugs stronger and cause them to stay in someone’s system for longer.   

This can be illegal, prescription, homeopathic, or other types of drugs. The risks associated with this include overdose, heart attack, and seizures.  

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