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'HIV home tests can help remove stigma'

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"We live in a society where sex is still quite a taboo topic. Just the discussion 'let's go for an STI test' can be quite a daunting thing."

For Ellie Harrison, getting a positive HIV result came as a shock.

Men who have sex with other men are one of the groups most at risk of getting HIV, so for the 26-year-old - as a straight woman - it was "the last one" she expected.

Ellie was diagnosed five years ago, through a home test small enough to fit through the letterbox.

A drop of blood from a finger prick is tested, which Ellie tells BBC Newsbeat was "easy and efficient".

This week, more free HIV tests are being offered to people in England.

It's part of a government drive to improve diagnosis, which dropped off during the Covid pandemic.

The kit, which arrives in plain packaging through the post, gives a result within 15 minutes.

A "reactive" result means HIV is possible and a clinic check is needed.

"When I found out, I was petrified, and I didn't know anything about HIV at the time," Ellie says.

"I was just really scared of what was going to happen, what the treatment was going to be like, and if I was going to be OK."

Ellie was booked into a specialist HIV clinic and found out specific details, like the amount of virus in her blood - viral load - and the strength of her immune system.

The treatment plan can be as simple as taking tablets to bring viral load down, with Ellie saying she feels HIV is "one of the easiest medical conditions" to manage.

"There's been a bit of a mental ride, but I think that was just my lack of knowledge at the start."

HIV medication can keep the virus at undetectable levels, meaning you cannot pass HIV on and your health is protected.

Sources: Terrence Higgins Trust and NHS

Ellie feels there is still a stigma around HIV, but she thinks home tests can help.

"I think there's still a lot of fear around being with someone that's got HIV or just being around knowing someone that has it and whether they can pass it on or not."

That's something Ellie has experienced, "especially being a straight woman".

"People that I date, I think the education in that community [young, straight men] is pretty poor," she says.

"I have to go through the whole process of explaining what undetectable means, that I'm actually OK."

But the ease of a home test means more people may feel comfortable getting tested.

"That's how I got diagnosed. It's so easy and efficient," Ellie says.

"I always say to people, I'd rather know my status and be OK, happy and healthy than not."

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