Living with HIV - Horsham district man talks about his experience

Lee Elliott (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150911-161817008
Lee Elliott (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150911-161817008

HIV is no longer the killer it once was - but life can still be tough for those living with the virus.

Being diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus still carries a stigma for some and many will keep their diagnosis a secret for fear of others’ reaction.

Figures show that there are 0.99 people in every 1,000 in Horsham aged between 15 and 59 are living with the virus.

The virus hit the headlines today as Hollywood star Charlie Sheen confirmed in a US television he is living with HIV.

One Horsham district man - Lee Elliott - has spoken of his experience in a bid to help others.

Lee, 28, was diagnosed with HIV in 2011. “I contracted it from a guy I was with at the time,” said Lee.

“I always used to go for a test three or four times a year, but it was still a shock when I was told I had it.

“Up until then, the only thing I knew about it really was that Freddie Mercury died of it - I’m a Queen fan. It scared the hell out of me.”

Lee, a farm labourer who works in Kingsfold and lives there with his partner, sought help and advice from the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that campaigns on issues related to HIV and AIDS and aims to reduce its spread.

He also found support from agroup called Beyond Positive - beyondpositive.org - who offer help and advice.

“They were great,” said Lee.” I could sit down and talk to someone in the same position as me which was a real help.”

One of Lee’s biggest fears was telling friends and family.

“My family were really good but I lost quite a few of my friends, although others were supportive.

“My gran was really worried when she first found out,” he said, “But she’s from the older generation which thought it was a death sentence. Once we explained that I should live a full life, she was fine.”

And now Lee would advise anyone in a similar situation to himself: “Don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world.”

He said he now experiences hostility on only a few occasions.

“I’ve had people get quite nasty with me in clubs - they think they can catch it from using the same glass as me.

“That attitude used to really upset me but now I just think ‘it’s alright, you’re in the wrong if that’s your view’.”

Most people diagnosed with HIV nowadays go on to live long and relatively healthy lives.

Lee himself takes daily medication that he will need to take for the rest of his life, but he sees it as a small price to pay. He has regular checks at the HIV clinic at Crawley Hospital.Sexual Health West Sussex runs the clinic there and cares for more than 500 people living with HIV.

Clinical matron Nicki Amas said: “There are many treatments now available to keep the spread of the virus under control and the earlier you know your diagnosis, the greater the opportunity to manage your condition.”

Natika Halil, chief executive of sexual health charity FPA, said: “Once diagnosed and on treatment, people with HIV can expect a near-normal life span, so it is vital for us to increase testing.

“It’s also important to consider that one in six people now living with HIV in the UK is aged over 55.”

HIV itself attacks the immune system, and weakens victims’ ability to fight infections and disease. It’s most commonly caught by having sex without a condom.

NHS experts say it can also be passed on by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment, and from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when sufferers’ bodies can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.

l A community support group for people living with or affected by HIV - known as GO, standing for Getting On - is about to celebrate its fourth birthday in Crawley.

The group was set up because of the numbers of people locally who wanted to meet others in the same position as them.

They are staging a World Aids Day event at Bar7 in Crawley on November 29.

Amanda Bryden, a nurse at Crawley Hospital’s HIV clinic, said she hopes it would raise awareness around HIV and help people to consider getting tested if they had been putting it off.