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African Communities Empowerment (ACE) offers free rapid HIV testing at sites across west London. We answer some of the  questions that we are regularly asked below. If you have any questions that aren’t answered below, or would like some more information please contact us at info@ace-london.org.uk .

Why test for HIV?

Despite what you may have heard or read previously, there is still no way of knowing your HIV status other than having a test specifically for HIV. The outcomes for HIV positive people have greatly improved with the use of medication to manage the condition. As a result of this a near normal lifespan can be expected with less impact on day to day life. This is a great reason to have an HIV test, as the sooner one is diagnosed, the better the health outcomes are.

How often should I test?

Current guidelines suggest that testing yearly is a good minimum. However, the more sex you have and/or more partners would mean that more frequent testing, such as every 3-6 months, is more appropriate. If you’re not sure what level of testing is right for you, ask at the clinic when you next attend. Remember that regular testing is a good thing but over testing can cause you unnecessary stress.

Should I test for everything else at the same time?

Many people worry about HIV which is understandable given the impact of a positive diagnosis. However, testing for all the other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis and gonorrhoea is just as important, as these are often more likely to be transmitted than HIV.  Some STIs such as chlamydia often do not have any symptoms until later on which can make treatment more complicated. All STIs can increase the risk of both passing on and getting HIV, so rather than have separate trip to a clinic you may prefer to have a full sexual health screen including an HIV test. You could think of it as an annual sexual health MOT (or more frequently if appropriate). At our HIV testing clinic at Heart of Hounslow we are also able to offer a full sexual health screen.

Do I have to test if I’m in a monogamous relationship?

In a monogamous relationship (where both partners are negative and there is no sex other than with the partner) there is no possibility that HIV or any other STI can be transmitted. This is provided that both partners have not had sex with anybody else after being tested for HIV/STIs and cleared before the relationship started. Sometimes people agree to sex outside the relationship and sometimes secretly. This raises the possibility of one of the partners getting an STI or HIV and passing it on to the other, if the sex they are having outside the relationship is unsafe. For this reason it’s a good idea to get tested regularly.

I have regular blood tests at the hospital because of a medical condition; doesn’t that also include an HIV test?

As part of the management of many medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, regular blood tests provide your doctor with important information. However, unless explicitly requested these tests do not include HIV, so you can’t rely on them to know your status. To have an HIV test explicit consent has to be given by you. This is done as part of the pre-test discussion.

I hate needles, what can I do?

There are a number of tests available which do not use needles. Some clinics offer a test which uses an oral swab to take a sample for testing. At ACE we have the Insti finger-prick test which uses a tiny lancet (like with diabetes testing) so you do not see the needle and is more accurate than many of the oral swab tests. If you are very nervous about the test you can book an hour-long appointment to test during a longer session with a ACE Health Trainer. This way you can have a test in an unhurried, relaxed and supportive environment, giving an opportunity to ask any questions about the test or sexual health in general.

Why do I get asked questions about what I’ve been up to before the test?

When you go for an HIV test the person performing the test needs to get some idea of your level of risk and when it occurred. This allows them to work out if the test they have will be suitable. They are not there to judge you and although it can be embarrassing being open about what you have been doing, what you say is treated as confidential and they will ensure that you get the appropriate care.

Where can I get an HIV test?

Tests are available at all sexual health clinics (although not all have walk-in services) as well as a number of community based testing clinics. ACE run a community-based testing service at convenient times in non-clinical settings. For more information about our service check the HIV Testing section of our website. There you can also find links details of clinics in the West London area.

How long does it take to get the results?

Rapid tests such as the Insti finger-prick test give a result within a few minutes. Other finger prick-tests and the oral test take around 20 minutes. Blood tests can take anything from a few days to over a week depending on the clinic as the sample needs to be sent off-site to be tested.

How long should I wait to test if I think I’ve put myself at risk?

Previously the general rule for HIV testing was that you had to wait 12 weeks after a risky episode but this depends on the test. This is suitable for those who are routinely testing. At most sexual health clinics they will also be able to offer a blood test (not finger-prick) which will be able to detect HIV in the blood at 4 weeks. However, this is not a rapid test and results can take from a few days to a week to get results.  If you are worried about testing following a specific risky encounter it is best to contact the clinic and ask them what tests they have available. If you have very recently put yourself at risk it’s important that you contact a sexual health clinic or a hospital A&E department about the possibility of receiving a medication called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) that can reduce the chances of HIV staying in your body. This should ideally be done within the first 24 hours and no later than 72 hours. More information about PEP can be found on the THT website.