Get tested and know your HIV status - that’s the message for people in Scarborough during the first ever National HIV Testing Week.
The awareness week, which starts tomorrow, is aimed encouraging people to get tested, which is quick, easy and free of charge.
Karen Chapman, of sexual health organisation Yorkshire MESMAC, carries out HIV testing in the community on a regular basis.
She said: “The main theme is come forward and get tested if you’re sexually active and 16 or over, whatever your sexual preferences.
“It’s rapid testing and highly confidential and there are lots of places you can go. You’ll get a result within the hour.”
Karen explained that the test involves a quick finger prick or venous sample, with lots of support available both before and after.
She said: “A result will come back as either negative or reactive. Any reactive tests will be followed up with a full screening.
“We don’t use the word ‘positive’ when talking about results as there’s still a stigma attached.”
Staff always make sure that there are support mechanisms in place, whatever the result.
Nurse specialist Tracey Varley, of York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “When people meet you, they realise it’s not that scary.
“We can test you there and then - and it’s all free of charge.”
She added: “I think people are still frightened because of those adverts in the 1980s.
“The fact is that you can live a normal life with HIV, as long as you get diagnosed as soon as possible.”
Tracey said that there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to HIV, adding: “It’s stigma and fear that keeps people away.
“For example, people often don’t realise that if you’ve got HIV, you can have a baby without passing it on.”
Dr Lincoln Sargeant, director of public health for North Yorkshire, said that one of the main reasons behind having the first ever National HIV Testing Week was to tackle the problem of late presentation.
He said: “Nationally a quarter of cases present late. If people present early, there’s more chance of living a normal life span.
“If you’ve had risky sex for whatever reason, this is an opportunity for you to come forward and get tested quickly.”
Dr Sargeant explained that there are around currently around 250 people in North Yorkshire that have been diagnosed as having HIV.
He said: “This is a low level, but the focus has fallen over the years and it needs to be brought back.
“People sometimes forget that it’s potentially a life-threatening disease.”
Tom Doyle, chief executive of Yorkshire MESMAC, said: “The sooner you know your HIV status the better it is for your health.
“If you don’t have HIV, you can stop worrying and we can help you develop strategies for the future to help you manage your risks.
“If you have HIV, treatment’s never been so effective and the sooner you know, the more choices you have.”
World Aids Day this year takes place on December 1.