WHAT do you do if you’re worried you may have contracted HIV? Anthea Batsakis speaks to Dr Jade Bilardi at the Central Clinical School at Monash University who provides useful advice on how you can act quickly and appropriately.
It is estimated that 26,800 people in Australia are currently living with HIV. If you believe that you may have contracted HIV – whether you are experiencing any symptoms or have been exposed to the virus – it is important to act quickly and appropriately.
I spoke to Dr Jade Bilardi – a research fellow with interest in sexual health and behaviour at the Central Clinical School at Monash University – who provided me with advice on the actions that should be taken if you think you have contracted HIV/AIDS.
But first, it is important to familiarise yourself with how HIV/AIDS spreads:
- HIV spreads via: anal or vaginal sex without a condom, from mother to baby during childbirth or breastfeeding, and by sharing needles.
- HIV does NOT spread via: kissing, sharing cups or cutlery, regular social contact, toilet seats, or mosquitoes.
Seek a medical professional immediately and get tested
It is of the utmost importance to seek a doctor to arrange testing and to discuss the risk as soon as possible.
Dr Jade Bilardi recommends visiting the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, which specialises in testing and treating STI’s and is the largest sexual health clinic in Victoria, located at 580 Swanston St, Carlton.
“The doctors and nurses at MSHC are very experienced in the area of sexual health and will provide you with high quality, non-judgemental care,” she said.
What do the tests involve?
“Your doctor will do a HIV antibody and antigen test – a blood test to see whether you have come into contact with HIV,” Dr Bilardi said.
“If you have come into contact with HIV then the HIV produces antigens and your body will produce HIV antibodies to try and fight the infection and it is these antigens and antibodies that will detected by the blood test.”
PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis)
PEP comprises of taking two to three antiretroviral medications for 28 days after a possible exposure to HIV. It is available from medical professionals, as discussed above, and must be started within 72 hours (3 days) from the time you were exposed.
PEP is not a cure for HIV, HIV does not have a cure. Rather, it is a way to inhibit the virus before it establishes itself in the body.
Dr Jade Bilardi explains that “while studies have shown that PEP is likely to be effective, it does not guarantee that you will not become infected with HIV if you have been exposed.”
“The earlier it is taken, the more effective it is likely to be,” she said.
More information about PEP is provided here.
What about confidentiality?
Everything that you discuss with a doctor is strictly confidential and it is important to disclose as much relevant information with him or her as possible for more clarity. Medical professionals do not judge and are there to help you no matter the circumstance.
However, if you are diagnosed with HIV, you are required by law to tell your sexual partners of your diagnosis.
“The Health Department will also be notified using your initials, date of birth and post code but your name and addresses are not disclosed,” Dr Jade Bilardi said.
What resources are available?
It’s not just a physically strenuous process, but a mental health issue for many.
“If you are diagnosed with HIV you are likely to feel scared, angry, shocked and even depressed”, Dr Jade Bilardi said.
You can seek counselling, and more specifically, at MSHC, patients are provided with this service before and after your HIV test. The clinical staff will provide you with all the information that you would like in the event that you test HIV positive.