Today is International AIDS day, but if you’re straight, this concerns you, so don’t turn away!

When I was a young man, I was heavily involved in the service provision of men with HIV. At that time there were no treatments, and men died tragically young. Things are different know. The treatments for HIV are becoming so effective that, if caught early, HIV can be seen as a chronic manageable condition, and the person can expect a normal lifespan.

The qualifier in the above statement, ‘if caught early’, is the crucial thing here. The British HIV Association estimate that a quarter of HIV deaths were a direct result of patients being diagnosed too late.

One benchmark test in measuring the health of people with HIV is known as the CD4 test. This is a measure of the overall level of immune system ‘CD4’ cells in the body. The more of these cells the better. If the measure of these cells drops below 200 then the patient is at risk of developing opportunistic infections that are AIDS defining and life threatening. Starting treatment with CD4 counts below 200 is also a predictor of poorer response to anti retrovirals.

Nearly half of heterosexual men diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed with their CD4 counts below 200. This is concerning.

The popular perception has always been that HIV is a problem in the gay community. This is indeed true. HIV, however, does not respect sexuality, and the numbers of heterosexual men with HIV are increasing.

What can you do about it? Well if you are heterosexual and have had sex without a condom, I suggest testing annually. You are putting yourself, and your future partners, at risk if you don’t. HIV tests are free and can be obtained from your local sexual health clinic. Many clinics offer same day testing services. The service is confidential and they will be in the best position to offer you follow up care and support should you receive a positive result.

Remember, to benefit from treatment you need to start early, that means testing regularly.

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