health advice

The Manchester Sisters are working together with various health organisations.

On this page we have sent over your questions or queries to George House Trust Service Director, Colin Armstead, to obtain professional answers - we are not qualified to answer these ourselves.

Feel free to contact us if you'd like us to forward your question.

Health and Advice

  • 1. Health and Welfare
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  • 1. What does ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ mean?
     

    Everyone who’s living with HIV has something called a ‘viral load’. This is the amount of the HIV virus that’s in the body at
    any specific time.
    The medication taken by people living with HIV is now so effective that it reduces the amount of virus in the body to
    such a point that it is ‘undetectable’. This doesn’t mean that HIV isn’t there – it means that the levels of the virus are so small that it can’t be detected through routine blood tests.
    The really brilliant news is that recent research has shown that someone living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load
    can’t pass HIV to someone else during sex. HIV activists and HIV organisations want to make sure that as many people as possible get to know this fact and the current U=U campaign wants people – positive and negative – to help spread the word.

    U=U campaign
    U=U campaign
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  • 2. When do you think I should tell my family that I’m HIV positive?  I’m worried  what they might say if I tell them.
     

    The first thing you need to think about is why you want to tell your familythatyou’re HIV positive. Is it because you think you have to or because of the extra support they might be able to give you?

    Telling people that you’re HIV positive needs to be thought through really carefully – once you have told someone you’ll never be able to ‘un-tell’ them. Telling other people also runs the risk of them telling someone else – something you have no control over.

    Of course, the other side of the argument is that telling people can be really empowering and can widen the amount of support available to you.The key thing is that this important information is yours and you can decide what to do with it.

    Take as much time as you need to think over the pros and cons before you make your decision.

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  • 3. Recently I have heard more about PrEP and PEP but I’m really confused about  what does what – can you advise?
     

    PrEP stands for ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis’. Put simply this means someone taking a HIV drug called Truvada to prevent them from becoming HIV positive.

    The research that’s been done into this has shown that PrEP is very effective at preventing HIV transmission. However, PrEP is not yet available on the NHS and there is no indication as to when it might be.

    PEP stands for ‘post exposure prophylaxis’ and is a month long course of HIV drugs which are used to prevent someone from becoming HIV positive after they have been exposed to the virus. The drugs need to be taken within 72 hours of the person being exposed to HIV - after this time frame they won’t work.

    PEP is available from sexual health and HIV clinics and hospital A&E departments – but not from GPs.

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  • 4. I’ve been diagnosed HIV+ but my consultant says I don’t need to have HIV   medication at the moment. Why is this? Surely it would be better to start medication straight away.
     

    The decision about when to start treatment should involve, first of all, an honest discussion with your consultant about why you want to start.

    Remember that once you start treatment, you will be taking it for the rest of your life.

    New guidelines were introduced just this year which say that anyone can start on HIV meds at any point after their diagnosis so long as they are ready.

    There is a very strong argument for starting meds early. What we know now is that someone who is taking HIV meds and has an undetectable viral load – meaning that the amount of the virus in the person’s body is so low that it can’t be detected by the system of measurement that’s used – has an almost impossible chance of passing HIV on to someone else. 

    We also know that starting medication soon after diagnosis – rather than waiting until the immune system has become weaker – is actually better for the longer term health of someone living with HIV.    

    Think through your own reasons for wanting to start treatment and have another discussion with your consultant.

    If you do want to start medication, the guidelines are very clear and you have every right to ask your consultant to start you on them.

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  • 5. Could you let me know where the best place to go for an HIV test is, please?
     

    If you need to get yourself tested then there are quite a few places you can go to in confidence. The first port of call should be your own GP, but if, for some reason, you don't want to then there are other options too.

    The Hathersage Centre (otherwise known as The Manchester Centre for Sexual Health) is just south of Manchester city centre. Their website is here. Sister Bangbang pops long here for her regular check ups, and knows it to be filled with friendly and approachable staff.

    If you live in the North Manchester area, you can use the Service which is located on both hospital sites and community clinics throughout Bury, Rochdale and North Manchester.

    Clinics are open Monday – Friday at different times; mornings, afternoons and evenings. Please contact each clinic for further detailed opening times. Click here for their website showing all the details.

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  • 6. I have just been diagnosed as HIV positive and I'm not sure what to do next.
     

    Please be reassured that there are lots of people ready to help you in so many ways. You are definitely not alone.

    We recommend that you have a look at the George House Trust website to give you an idea of what they do, and how they can support you. 

    Have a look here: http://www.ght.org.uk/newly-diagnosed and see how they can help.

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  • 7. I recently had sex with guy who is HIV positive and he told me that he couldn’t pass HIV on to me because he’s ‘undetectable’. What does he mean and is it true that I can’t get HIV from him?
     

    If someone who is living with HIV is taking medication regularly, then the amount of the virus in their system (called the ‘viral load’) will eventually become undetectable. This doesn’t mean that HIV isn’t there, it means that there is such a small amount of the virus that it can’t be detected by the methods used to measure it.

    What we know from recent research is that people living with HIV, with an undetectable viral load and no other sexually transmitted infections, have an ‘almost zero’ chance of passing HIV on to someone else during sex. Of course, we can never say never, but the results of the research are very clear.

    Having an undetectable viral load is just one of the ways in which people living with HIV are managing the risk of passing HIV on to someone else.

    Condoms also are a very effective way of preventing HIV transmission too.

    The guy you met has taken responsibility for getting himself tested and is obviously taking his meds regularly to make sure that he stays undetectable.

    If you’re seeing him again, and sex is on the cards, have an honest discussion with him and agree on the ways in which you can best prevent him passing HIV on to you.

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  • 8. My best friend has just told me that he’s been diagnosed with HIV. I don’t know what to say to him or what to do. Can you help?
     

    The first thing to think about is the fact that your friend has told you about his HIV diagnosis for a reason – he wants you to know.

    It may be that he’s looking for some support or a listening ear when he’s finding it hard to cope. He obviously trusts you or he wouldn’t have said anything to you in the first place.

    Sometimes after a diagnosis, people can feel quite overwhelmed and often alone. There’s often a real fear of being rejected too.

    Let him know that you’re there for him when he needs you. Let him know that he can talk to you about his fears and his anxieties. Let him know that you’re up for a night out with him when things get too much and he just needs a pint and a laugh.

    You don’t have to be an expert – but you’d be doing your friend a massive favour if you learned some basic HIV facts - http://www.hivaware.org.uk is a good place to start. At least then you’ll understand what he’s talking about.

    Above all, don’t panic. Your friend is in a good place because he knows his HIV status and he can now manage his health better than he could if he didn’t know.

    Be the best friend you can be – tell him you’re the same friend that you were before his diagnosis and that he can count on you to be there for him.

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  • 9. How often should I take a HIV test?
     

    You should have a test if you think you have exposed yourself to the risk of contracting HIV – for example unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive or who doesn’t know their status.

    Sexually active gay or bisexual men should take a test at least once a year – and more regularly if you have unprotected anal sex with new or casual partners.

    It’s also recommended that you take a HIV test as part of a routine sexual health screening.

    If you have had unprotected sex recently and you’ve experienced severe flu like symptoms (for example sore throat and fever) you should get tested as soon as possible.

    Details of where you can test are given in an earlier answer

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  • 10. I had sex with a guy who’s HIV positive (I’m negative) and we were safe using condoms etc. Afterwards I felt nervous and thought I should go to the hospital for PEP but the guy said I wouldn’t need it as we were safe and he was on meds and had an undetectable viral load. I still feel anxious though – should I have gone to the hospital?
     

    The important thing to understand is what the term ‘undetectable viral load’ actually means. Viral load refers to the amount of the virus present in a sample of blood. HIV medication aims to reduce the amount of the virus to an ‘undetectable’ level. This doesn’t mean that HIV isn’t there – it means that the way in which it is measured can’t actually detect it.

    The really great news about this is that recent research has shown that someone with HIV with an undetectable viral load has an ‘almost zero’ chance of passing HIV to someone else.

    You used condoms and he has an undetectable viral load – from what you say it would seem like you have no worries about having acquired HIV.

    However, only a HIV test will tell you for certain. If you’re still concerned, find details of where you can take a test locally.

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  • 11. I use the online apps – like Scruff and Grindr – and am upfront about my HIV+ status. Sometimes I get some real nasty comments saying that I’m ‘unclean’ etc and that I shouldn’t be online as I’m spreading the virus. I’m not letting this stop me, but any advice on what I can say back to them, other than being rude!?
     

    Remember that you’re the person who has taken responsibility for knowing your HIV status. You’re the person who has made the decision to be upfront about the fact that you’re living with HIV. You’re the one who is taking steps to make sure that you don’t pass HIV to someone else.

    You might want to remind people of this the next time you receive a nasty message from someone – there’s a lot of information about HIV out there so you might want to encourage them to educate themselves about HIV too.

    HIV stigma is, unfortunately, alive and well – you’re doing your part to challenge it by being open about your status.

    Don’t let the outdated and negative attitudes of others put you off.

    The fact that you have HIV doesn’t mean that should give up the right to a fantastic sex life – neither does it mean that anybody has the right to deny it to you.

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  • 12. I know that GHT have drop ins and get togethers, but I don’t really want to go to the actual place, so do you know if they organise similar things but in the Gay Village for example? That would be really useful.
     

    George House Trust has a dedicated service for gay and bisexual men called being+.

    As part of this service we are able to offer peer mentoring along with life coaching and neither of these need to take place at the George House Trust building. The only thing we do ask people to do is to come in for an initial health and wellbeing assessment. If people are referred by their HIV clinic, then the health and wellbeing assessment can be done over the telephone, if that is easier.

    We have in the past been able to run events within the being+ project at places like the LGBT Foundation, and other external venues, but this is often reliant on funding.  It is not something that we able to do routinely, as we want to be able to empower people to feel able to come to GHT so that we can make sure that we are meeting their individual needs.

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