PEOPLE across Somerset are being encouraged to get HIV tested, particularly if they have had unprotected sex or have multiple partners.

With National HIV Testing Week from Monday (February 5), people are reminded of the importance of knowing your HIV status to maintain good health and prevent the virus spreading.

Early diagnosis is key - in Somerset nearly one in two HIV diagnoses are late, leading to poorer health and increased transmission.

You can self-test by ordering a test at through which you take a finger-prick blood sample and read your own result at home or send off a blood sample to get results within 72 hours.

Somerset Wide Integrated Sexual Health Clinics offers a blood test with results within 20 minutes. You can also test at your GPs.

Cllr Adam Dance, Somerset Council lead member for public health, equalities and diversity, said: “People can live with HIV for a long time without any symptoms. Testing is the only way to know your HIV status.

“If you have HIV, finding out means you can start treatment, stay healthy and avoid passing the virus onto anyone else."

Dr Kanch Seneviratne, Consultant GUM/HIV from Somersets Sexual Health Services said: “HIV does not have the awareness it should due to the stigma around talking about sex or testing for sexually transmitted infections like HIV.

“Let’s challenge that stigma and make testing for HIV and living with HIV a normal thing.

“Advancements in treatments have transformed this disease meaning most people with HIV have a normal life expectancy and effective treatment means they cannot pass on HIV to anyone through sex.

"You can now take one tablet every day or an injection every couple of months, so you do not even need to take tablets every day.

“Everybody and anybody having sex at any age can get HIV."

James Mead, service development lead (prevention) from The Eddystone Trust, said: “In the UK, one in 16 people living with HIV don’t know that they have the virus.

"This is why we want to promote the message that testing for HIV can be done in a variety of ways and settings.

"We can now obtain a result from doing a swab of the gums. These tests take 20 minutes to provide a result and can be done where you feel most comfortable."