As part of our sexual health services here at the London Dermatology Centre, we offer a fully personalised and discreet HIV service. From initial testing to treatment we can provide monitoring and medication to support patients. In our modern clinic our sexual health team will be with you every step of the way to ensure you have everything you need to manage your condition.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus infects the cells in the immune system and damages them. This makes your immune system weaker and less able to fight off everyday infections. HIV has no cure and without treatment can progress into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which can be life-threatening. However, there are many effective drugs available to treat HIV and with these most people will live a long and healthy life.
The most common way of getting HIV is through having unprotected sex with a person not taking effective treatment. The HIV virus is present in body fluids such as semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk of someone infected with HIV. HIV can also be passed on in child birth, breastfeeding, from mother to baby during pregnancy as well as sharing needles.
Most people who are newly infected with HIV will experience flu-like symptoms two to six weeks after being exposed to the HIV virus. These symptoms will last for up to two weeks. Apart from this initial flu-like illness, the HIV virus will often not cause any more symptoms for a number of years. Meanwhile it is damaging your immune cells and making you less able to fight infection. Unfortunately this can lead to many people not knowing they are infected for many years until the virus has caused a lot of damage and that person becomes ill. Therefore if you think you might have been exposed to HIV is it important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible.
There are a number of available tests for HIV from the finger prick blood test to home testing kits. However, these types of test will all need to be confirmed with a blood test. Both positive and negative tests may need to be repeated up to 3 months after the possible exposure to HIV. This is called the window period; it is the duration of time that it can take for the HIV to show up in the blood test. If you suspect you have been exposed to HIV do not delay seeking medical attention as there are emergency anti-HIV medications available. PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis can prevent you becoming infected if taken within 3 days of the exposure. Again, you will need a repeat test for HIV in up to 3 months time.
We welcome patients who have already been diagnosed as HIV positive. Our sexual health team is able to provide monitoring, care and medication if you have been diagnosed HIV positive elsewhere. For all patients who have been diagnosed with HIV we will gather all relevant information from yourself and your current doctors, with your consent, and in strict confidence. We will require important details such as your current level of immune function (CD4 count), your viral load (concentration of the virus in your blood), any medications you have started or currently take as well as any past illness or other medical conditions you may have. This will allow us to continue your case in an effective and safe way. Should you not have access to these details, this is not a problem. We can organise all the relevant tests you may need. You will need a consultation with our lead sexual health physician, Dr Rex Melville, who will be able to come up with a management plan for you.
Depending on your circumstances you may be offered consultation and monitoring at 6 monthly intervals if you are in good health and coping well with your medication. As you may be aware, HIV combination therapy (often called HAART) can come with significant side effects. We will help you manage this side effects and check to see if the medication you are taking is working effectively to manage your HIV. Should the medication not be suitable we can help you to effectively transition to another HIV medication. Some patients will require more frequent monitoring and consultations which can be accommodated.
Dr Melville is an experienced Genito-Urinary Physician with a wide knowledge of treating sexual infections and difficulties. He is highly qualified to treat and prescribe for all aspects of HIV outpatient care, and has been managing patients with HIV in the UK and Australia since 1981. Should you require additional care from other related specialists or have particular needs or concerns regarding skin, gynaecology, kidney or liver problems we will be able to refer you.
Once we have access to a recent set of test results (including the CD4 count and viral load) along with a thorough medical history we will be able to arrange private prescriptions of HIV medications licensed in the UK. These can then be taken to your local pharmacy for collection.
In the event that you fall ill and need hospitalisation, our team has access to other HIV physicians who can care for you privately as an inpatient (that is, in a hospital bed), if you so wish. Alternatively the UK National Health Service will be able to offer you a high standard of care. Any charges arising from this, however, would involve discussion between that hospital and yourself.
To begin the process of care for your HIV at the London Dermatology Centre you will need to come in for an initial consultation with one of our sexual health doctors. In your first consultation your doctor will complete a thorough sexual health and HIV assessment. This will involve going through your medical history, any previous diagnosis or treatment and any concerns you may have. Your doctor may also want to examine you in order to complete their assessment. In this consultation your doctor will discuss with you any tests you may need. Your doctor will also be able to advise on HIV treatment and monitoring.
For more information regarding our HIV services, or to arrange a discrete appointment, please contact the clinic on 020 7467 3720.
Content by Dr Rex Melville and Rebecca Perris.