Did you know, that during the early years after HIV was first discovered, it was known as GRID: 'Gay-Related Immune Deficiency', due to the 'clustering' of infection amongst homosexual men? It took several years for scientists to realise the virus does not discriminate between men and women, and it was renamed HIV: 'Human Immunodeficiency Virus'.

HIV can affect anyone, from any walk of life. This is why London Doctors Clinic, our experienced doctors recommend regular HIV tests and screenings, for early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of spread.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, means a virus that affects the immune system of humans, leading to a deficiency in immune ability. The HIV virus invades various cells of the immune system, specifically CD4 postive cells. It commandeers these cells' reproductive machinery for it's own reproduction. As it multiplies within these immune cells, it damages them, reducing their ability to perform normal infection-fighting duties. Over time, the numbers of CD4 cells in the immune system decrease.

This leaves HIV-positive people immunocompromised: more susceptible to not only the normal pathogens (coughs, colds, flu, pneumonia), but also opportunistic infections that healthy people would rarely get.

How do you become infected with HIV? | HIV Transmission

The HIV virus lives in the bodily fluids: from blood and breast milk, to semen, vaginal and anal fluids, but NOT sweat or urine. It and does not survive outside the body for long.

HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to non-infected by:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Sharing needles
  • Mother to child:
    • During pregnancy
    • During childbirth
    • By breastfeeding 

What is AIDS?

The progression of HIV infection is measured by the concentration of immune cells (specifically CD4+ cells) in the blood. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV disease progression, where levels of CD4+ immune cells fall to below 200 cells/mmin an HIV-positive patient. In a healthy person, there should be 500-1500 cells/mm3 CD4+ cells.

HIV-positive patients at the AIDS stage of the disease are most suspeptible to opportunistic infections, including:

  • Cryptococcal meningitis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), such as pneumocystis jirovecii
  • Some cancers, including Kaposi's sarcoma

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Approximately 80% of people who are infected with the virus will experience a flu-like illness in the initial stages of the infection. This may present symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, general malaise and a rash. This is known as the seroconversion stage of infection, and these symptoms tyupicallly last for 1-2 weeks. 20% of people newly-infected with HIV will show no symptoms at all.

After this seroconversion stage, HIV-positive people can live without any symptoms for a long period of time, as the virus damages the immune system very gradually. This means that many people who are infected with HIV are not aware that they are living with the virus.

Should I get tested for HIV?

Anyone having unprotected sex, sharing needles, or exposed to bodily fluids are potentially at risk for HIV, and should be tested regularly. Having said that, even if you don't consider yourself to be in an at-risk group, it is definitely worth getting screened once in a while, regardless!

For patients who believe they have been exposed to HIV, there is a treatment available called PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis). These emergency HIV drugs significantly reduce the chances of developing HIV after exposure, if taken within 72 hours of exposure. This medication is not without side-effects so the decision to prescribe this medication needs to be carefully considered. If you and your doctor agree PEP is appropriate for you, we can refer you on to the relevant private specialist clinic who can organise this. Alternatively, this treatment is also available from Sexual Health (GUM) Clinics or even A&E departments.

At LDC, we offer a variety of individual std tests and profiles as part of our sexual health screening service, for anyone wanting to be screened for HIV or other STI's.

Our specific HIV blood tests include:

  • Early Detection Screen
    • Available within 10 days of unprotected sex
    • Slightly limited sensitivity: patients are strongly recommended to return for testing after 4 weeks, and then ideally 3 months, for more confident test results.
  • HIV 1 & 2 blood test
    • Detects the p24 antigen on HIV cells
    • Costs just £40
    • Results usually available from just 4 hours
    • We recommend having this test at least 4 weeks after potential exposure to increase its reliability

Our affordable private doctors will ask during the consultation how you would like to receive results: by phone or email. In some cases, doctors may request patents re-attend the clinic to go though results in person at any private clinic of our 7 convenient locations.

Testing options available via the NHS: 

  • HIV 1 & 2 - 5th Generation
    • Detects p24 antigen
    • Most advanced test
    • 99.8% accurate

Can HIV be treated?

Thankfully, research has come along in leaps and bounds since the 80's, and an HIV diagnosis now considered a treatable medical condition. Modern medications can effectively manage the virus for decades, allowing suffers to lead a relatively full and long life.

Due to the serious nature of HIV infection, our GP's would need to refer HIV patients onto specialist clinics for specialist monitoring and treatment. 

Treatment will likely include a life-long course of antiretroviral (ARV) medications, as part of a combination therapy to avoid viral resistance. Viral load and CD4 count will also be regularly measured by the HIV clinic, to closely monitor HIV progression.

Although there is still no cure to HIV, in the last few years, there have been some incredible scientific breakthroughs regarding the HIV virus and treatment. Earlier this week even, it was reported how a British man may have been 'cured' of HIV - acclaimed as "one of the first serious attempt at a full cure for HIV".

By Keira Heslin-Davies