HIV Awareness and Support

SHINE was originally set up as the HIV Prevention Project in the late 90’s so we have many years of experience of working to raise awareness about HIV and supporting women who are either at risk of becoming HIV positive or who are HIV positive.

Whether you are an HIV positive woman, have a partner who is HIV positive or you are someone looking for information about HIV we can offer you information and advice.

Awareness Raising

One of our main aims is to help raise awareness about HIV – what it is, how can you get it, where can you get a test and what happens if you become HIV positive? People often get in touch with us to ask those questions and you are more than welcome to do that too.

What is HIV

HIV The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. A healthy immune system provides a natural defence against disease and infection. HIV infects special cells, called CD4 cells, which are found in the blood and are responsible for fighting infection. After becoming infected, the CD4 cells are destroyed by HIV. Although the body will attempt to produce more CD4 cells, their numbers will eventually go down and the immune system will stop working. This leaves a person who is infected with HIV with a high risk of developing a serious infection or disease, such as cancer because the immune system is no longer able to prevent it happening.

How is HIV spread? HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. This most commonly happens during sex, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. HIV can also be passed on through sharing needles. There is no cure for HIV and no vaccine to stop you from becoming infected. However, since the 1990s, treatments have been developed that help most people with HIV to stay well and live relatively normal lives. The sooner you know you have HIV the better as treatment can keep you healthy.

What is AIDS? Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) describes the later stages of HIV, when the immune system has stopped working and the person develops a life-threatening condition, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs). The term ‘AIDS’ was first used by doctors when the exact nature of the HIV virus was not fully understood. It is not used as much because it is too general to describe the many different conditions that can affect somebody with HIV. Specialists now prefer to use the terms advanced or late-stage HIV infection.

Symptoms

The first stage of HIV is known as primary HIV infection. In people who are infected with HIV, 60% will develop associated symptoms, usually two to six weeks after they are first infected with HIV. Symptoms of primary HIV infection may include: Fever, sore throat, tiredness, joint pain, muscle pain, swollen glands (lymph nodes), or a blotchy rash on the chest. These early symptoms are often very mild, so it is easy to mistake them for something else, like a cold or glandular fever. After this HIV will often not cause any other symptoms for many years. This is known as asymptomatic HIV infection. During this time, the virus is still reproducing and damaging your immune system. Late-stage HIV infection Left untreated, HIV will lower the number of CD4 cells in your body to a dangerously low level, and your immune system will stop working. On average it takes 10 years for the virus to damage the immune system in this way. A damaged immune system will result in you developing a serious infection. Possible symptoms of a serious infection caused by a damaged immune system include: feeling tired all the time, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea that won’t go away, blurred vision, white spots on your tongue or mouth, dry cough, shortness of breath, a fever of above 37C (100F) that lasts a number of weeks, or swollen glands that last for more than three months.
AIDS-related illnesses, such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and some cancers, may appear. Many of these, though serious, can be treated to some extent and some are likely to improve if you start treatment and your CD4 cell levels increase.

Monitoring

If you are diagnosed with HIV, you will be offered an appointment to a HIV or Sexual Health Service. You will also be offered counselling. You will need to have regular blood tests to check how the HIV is affecting your body. As part of the blood testing two main things are checked: Your CD4 count – which is the number of CD4 cells in your blood. Your viral load – which is the amount of HIV in your blood. These tests allow the staff at the HIV service to see how far the disease has progressed, and whether you might develop an infection.

Treatment

If the level of CD4 cells fall below a certain level (currently 350) you will be advised to start medication called HAART. This holds back the growth process of the HIV and allows CD4 levels to increase. Once HAART is started it should not be stopped without discussing it with your doctor because the disease can then come back quickly and the medication may not work again.

Outlook

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV and researchers believe it will be many years before either is found. However, special medicines that are used in what is known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) have been really successful in slowing down HIV and helping people to live longer. Researchers are confident that improvements in therapy will mean that a person with HIV will live as long as somebody who does not.

PEP=72 HOUR HIV EXPOSURE TREATMENT

PEP – POST EXPOSURE PROPHYLAXIS is available from Sexual Health Clinics and most Accident & Emergency centres across the North East.

PEP could stop someone from catching HIV as long as the treatment is started within 72 hours (3 days) of unsafe sex orcondom breakage occurring.

PEP involves taking anti-HIV drugs for 4 weeks and can have side effects. PEP is also not guaranteed to work.

If you would like more information contact SHINE on 0191 277 2050  or go to: www.pep.chapsonline.org.uk

SHINE staff are trained to do FREE 1 hour HIV tests (results received within 20 minutes). We can do tests by appointment  Monday – Thursdays 9.30-5pm and Friday 9.00-12.00.

You will be asked to fill in a registration form, sit through a pre-test discussion with the tester followed by a finger prick test, then the test develops for 20 minutes.

During this time information about contraception, safer sex and risk reduction and free condoms and lube is available.
Finally the tester will inform you of the result and complete the post-test discussion.

The client will also be asked to fill in an evaluation form. The service is completely free and confidential and no information is shared without your consent.

We are also looking to expand our HIV community testing service to access women in more hard to reach communities in the future.