What is HIV?
• Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a viral infection which damages your immune system (the part of your body that fights infection). The damage to your immune system usually happens gradually
• Treatment for HIV is very effective and means that for most people living with HIV, they can feel well, work, have relationships and have children
How do I know I’ve got it?
You may have no symptoms, getting a regular HIV test is therefore important.
For doctors and nurses, HIV could be missed because you may have no symptoms or signs, in addition HIV can look like other conditions.
How do you get it?
• You can get HIV from unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV
• From sharing needles or other injecting equipment with someone who has HIV
• Through contaminated blood products
• It can also be passed on from mother to baby
Where can I get tested?
• Your GP
Testing for HIV is carried out via a blood test. It can sometimes take 3 months (the window period) for the blood test to show positive. During the window period a person can be infected with HIV and infectious but have a negative HIV test.
You may be advised to come back for a repeat test when that ‘window period’ is up.
Getting an HIV test regularly - ideally at least every six months is recommended if you are at continued risk of infection. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the better the treatment options and the longer your life expectancy.
What is the treatment?
• There is no cure for HIV
• It is recommended that everyone with HIV infection is offered treatment
• Specific HIV medication usually take it once or twice a day
It is important that sexual contacts are advised to get tested for HIV. You can discuss this with the health adviser who can help you tell/talk to your partner. Other people that may need to be tested include children or people you have shared drug injecting equipment with.
How do I avoid getting HIV?
The best way to prevent all sexually transmitted infections is to practice safer sex. This means using a condom for vaginal, oral and anal sex.
If you inject drugs, don’t share needles or equipment.
HIV Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
• Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is when anti-retroviral drugs (drugs used to treat HIV infection) are taken by people who are HIV negative to lower their risk of acquiring HIV infection
• Recent research suggests that PrEP is as effective as condoms at preventing HIV
• PrEP does not protect against any STIs other than HIV and it only protects the person taking PrEP
• If you would like to find out more about PrEP, please contact the Sexual Health Services on 01324 673554
HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
I think I might have been exposed to HIV, what should I do?
• Post Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV (PEP) is when anti-retroviral drugs (drugs used to treat HIV) are given to try to prevent HIV infection in someone exposed to the HIV virus.
• You may have been exposed to HIV through sexual contact or from blood to blood contact eg: from a needle stick injury
• The drugs need to be given as soon as possible. They are most effective if given within 24 hours of exposure and unlikely to have any effect more than 72 hours after
• The drugs must be taken for four weeks
• The drugs used can cause serious side-effects so should only be prescribed when the risk of infection is significant. This can be a complicated issue and is done on a case-by-case basis. If you think you may need post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), it is urgent that you contact us straight away either at a clinic or via the sexual health helpline. If it is outwith clinic hours you should go immediately to the Emergency Department. For further information www.tht.org.uk/sexual-health/About-HIV/post-exposure-prophylaxis
This booklet, A long life with HIV provides information about living well with HIV.
Following Your HIV Diagnosis
The Central Sexual Health Service in Forth Valley offers a comprehensive service for people living with HIV. We provide supportive advice, testing and treatment for all aspects of HIV.
You might meet a range of different people at the clinic, including:
- Specialist Consultant in HIV
- Team of dedicated nursing staff
- Dedicated reception staff
- Specialist Dietitian
- Specialist Pharmacist
We work closely with the Terrence Higgins Trust, Scotland (THTS) and Waverley Care, who provide health promotion, peer support, welfare, advice, counselling and support for family/friends.
The HIV clinics are held on a Wednesday and a Friday morning at Falkirk Community Hospital, where you will be seen initially by an HIV Consultant.
When your HIV is stable on treatment, you will be seen by a nurse, with a special interest in HIV, on alternate appointments.
If you have a medical problem, which is not related to HIV, please, contact your GP or if out with normal hours, you can call NHS 24 on 101. If you do not wish to mention HIV, tell NHS 24 you have an illness which affects your immune system.
If it is a medical emergency, you should attend a local Emergency Department.
If you have any concerns relating to HIV or your treatment, please call one of the Senior Nursing Staff on 01324 673564, 0800 – 1600, Monday to Friday.
When you first attend the clinic
You will usually meet the Consultant and the Sexual Health Nurses, who will see you following your diagnosis. You will have bloods taken to help us identify what stage of HIV infection you have.
Two important blood tests you will have are the CD 4 count and the viral load. The CD 4 count tells us how well your immune system is working and the viral load tells us how much of the virus is in your blood. Your viral load will tell us how well your HIV treatment is working.
You will also meet our Dietitian at the clinic. It is really important that you have a healthy, balanced diet, which will maintain your immune system.
The Dietitian may discuss the following:
- The nutritional adequacy of your food intake
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Other dietary issues, i.e. diabetes, cholesterol
- Dietary aspects of your medications
- Screen for risk of heart disease and bone health
- Food/water safety
You may well have lots of questions and concerns about living with HIV. The important thing to know is that you can live a healthy, normal life.
There are others who are willing to talk, listen and share their experiences with you either face to face, on the ‘phone or online. Some of these contacts are listed below.
If you’re in doubt, never be afraid to ask, no matter how trivial you think your question is.
Peer Support Group in Falkirk is known as the Helix Group. Please ask us for further information.
U=U stands for undetectable=untransmissable.
Did you know that having an undetectable viral load when you are taking HIV treatment also stops HIV transmission. We will discuss this with you.
Useful local contact details and information sources:
Central Sexual Health Appointments:
01324 673554 (0815 – 1300)
Central Sexual Health Helpline:
01324 673563 (1400 – 1600)
Central Sexual Health Senior Nursing Staff:
01324 673564 (Alison /Grace)
Central Sexual Health Email:
Central Sexual Health Website:
For advice and support:
0131 558 1425
Terrence Higgins Trust, Scotland:
0141 332 3838
Terrence Higgins Trust, Scotland National Helpline:
0808 802 1221
Terrence Higgins Trust, Scotland Email:
Useful national contacts:
Talk to others online and monitor your HIV infection:
HIV-AIDS Carers and Family Service Providers:
0141 445 8797
For treatment advise:
General HIV Information:
Condoms delivered by post:
Some useful websites for more information:
www.aidsmap.com - Accurate HIV information
www.i-base.info - HIV treatment information
www.hivscotland.com HIV Scotland
www.tht.org.uk - Terrence Higgins Trust
www.HIValwayshear.org is an HIV awareness resources for schools. The resource gives a voice to people living with HIV in Scotland using four films to capture the experiences of four people who are HIV positive. They are true stories, told by the people themselves.
Supporting the films are HIV information sheets.
The school and youth group resources are linked to Curriculum for Excellence and produced in association with Education Scotland. More detailed resources are also available for schools and churches.