May 8, 2020 by Community Manager 0 Comments

5 Healthy Eating Habits to Form Today

The latest numbers say that the average person in the UK spends around £45 per week on food – including groceries and eating out. So, how do we make sure we’re getting our money’s worth? Here are 5 simple, easy, HEALTHY eating habits to form – 

Stay away from fad diets

This should be a no-brainer. Yes, that juice cleanse all your friends are doing on Instagram seems fun, but pause for a second and think – will it help you achieve your fitness and weight goals? Is it sustainable for you in the long run? Or will it be a one-week wonder and you’re left to your devices again? Understand your body, set realistic goals, and create a sustainable diet. A good diet is one that you can continue adhering to, is balanced, and right for your body.

Keep a food diary

The first step to finding or fixing an issue is to collect enough data about it. Keep a food diary to understand what goes into your system each day. Write it down or use an app that will calculate everything for you. With this information, you can track macros and calories, and also make a note of how the foods are affecting your moods and well-being. Monitor, then adjust.

Eat a balanced meal

No-carb is a thing of the past. Try and opt for a balanced meal instead – one that has enough protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. This also means more fruits and veg, less sugar, and less salt. Also keep in mind that a ‘meal’ includes what you drink – swap out that sugary, fizzy unhealthy drink for a healthier option. Or better yet, opt for some hot water or tea, which will help you digest your food better.

Find healthy alternatives

Studies show that deprivation can result in more intense binging. So how else do you stop eating unhealthy food? By finding healthier alternatives. For example, if you like your grain, choose one with higher fiber content – brown rice instead of rice, wheat bread instead of white bread. Sugar craving? Eat your favourite fruits instead to satiate that. Find healthier options and integrate the swap slowly into your diet.

Watch your meat intake

The NHS recommends a serving or two of fish everyday – mainly for the omega-3 fatty oils that are available in abundance in fish. On the other hand, the general consensus is that red meat may not be as good for us in large portions. Where possible, eat more white meat than red. And more fish than white meat.

Whatever habits you choose to keep or make, ensure that they do not introduce additional stress on your health – physical or mental. What we consume is closely tied to our well-being, so it is important to consume right. If you have questions about allergies, portion control, or how certain foods are affecting your health, talk to your GP. You can also speak to an expert GP at Gogodoc by scheduling an online video consultation  – visit our website or download our app to book an appointment as early as the hour. Eat well, stay safe, and be healthy!

Book an appointment today
and consult on your diet

April 24, 2020 by Community Manager 0 Comments

Feel Something, Say Something – COVID-19 symptoms refresher and what to do

A simple cough is enough to give us a fright these days – so we thought it might be time for a quick refresher on COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if you think you fit the brief.

NHS has designated two major symptoms for COVID-19 – 

  1. A high temperature – where your body (especially chest and back) feel hot to the touch.
  2. A new, continuous cough – the key phrase being ‘new and continuous’ – if you have been coughing continuously for an hour, or have 3 or more bad coughing fits in a span of 24 hours – if you tend to have allergies around this time, know that a COVID cough is much worse than the coughing fits you normally have.

If you think you have one or both of these symptoms – the recommendation is to use the 111 Online Coronavirus Service from NHS to figure out what to do next – whether it was a false alarm, or if a test needs to be taken, or if self-isolation is required. Whatever the conclusion, the advice is to ‘stay home’ and sort this out with the NHS online service so you don’t end up infecting anyone else. If the symptoms are unmanageable or if a baby or at-risk elder has these symptoms, the NHS recommends calling the helpline.

For someone that has COVID-19 symptoms, NHS recommends a 7-day self-isolation period with no contact with other humans for the fever to subside (longer if fever takes longer to subside) – this is so the risk of spreading of the virus is avoided. Note that a cough may last long after the infection period is complete. For someone who lives with, or has had contact with a COVID-19 positive person, the recommended self-isolation period is 14 days – since it can take 14 days for symptoms to show. If symptoms show, an additional 7-day self-isolation maybe required.

Regardless of work commitments or your general gauge of your own health, now is the time to be safe than sorry. So stay home, monitor your health and seek help if you think you have symptoms. If you are unsure and want to monitor your health without leaving home, schedule an online phone or video consultation with a General Practice doctor at Gogodoc – a doctor can call you within the hour!

Book for a video consultation today!

March 22, 2020 by Community Manager 0 Comments

What to do if you think you may have the Coronavirus

It’s a pandemic, we are hearing and reading about it everyday on the news. A friend of a friend of a friend has it. And now you think you have it too – because you coughed that one time.

Don’t Panic. Take a deep breath, and let’s look at what to do if you think you have the dreaded Coronavirus.

 

COVID-19 Symptoms

The coronavirus causes COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness very similar to the cold and the flu. The initial symptoms are a high temperature and cough. Other, more intense symptoms might be a shortness of breath.

Just a cough by itself may not be cause for alarm here – have you travelled to a country with COVID-19 cases or come into close contact with them? Is the cough new or have you always had one from allergies etc. Did you go to a crowded place or did you come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus?

 

When to Take the Test

Okay, you think your symptoms mimic the virus – the first instinct is to go see your GP and get a test done. However, the latest directive from NHS says that you do not need to visit a GP, pharmacy, or hospital. All they want you to do is to stay put, at home (also called self-isolation) for at least 7 days. In most healthy individuals, the COVID-19 will exhibit symptoms and be gone within that time-frame, very much like the common cold. You are only advised to call the NHS 111 helpline if you are unable to manage the symptoms on your own, or if the condition worsens. The NHS will then appropriately guide you on next steps.

 

Self and Social Isolation

If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate for 7 days. Do not meet with anyone, try not to travel outside unless absolutely essential, wear a face mask or cover your mouth with your sleeve (or a tissue) if you do have to be outside, and wait for the illness to subside.

Anyone who has come in contact with you should also practise self-isolation for 14 days (from the day they met you and you had symptoms) to avoid being carriers of the disease.

Even if you don’t have the virus, it is best to consider social distancing and avoid crowded places where you might pick up the virus. Remember to wash your hands frequently, and with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap is not available) and avoid touching your face, to minimize the risk of being infected.

If you are still unsure and would like some expert opinion and guidance on your case, schedule an online consultation with a qualified GP. Book a phone/video doctor consultation with Gogodoc and get all your questions answered right away. Whatever the case, stay indoors, wash your hands, and let’s ride this out.

 

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March 16, 2020 by Community Manager 0 Comments

Meet 2020’s Top 10 Superfoods

Superfoods are in the spotlight again – foods jam-packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and the best bang for your buck when it comes to nutrition. As we fight the newest Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, here is a look at the immunity-boosting, nutritious superfoods in 2020 – check it out to see how many you are including in your diet today:

Turmeric

This star spice has been used a lot in Asian medicine – it boasts of anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants and is good for your immune system and heart.

Try: Get a full dose of this superfood by drinking a turmeric latte, complete with ginger, cinnamon and black pepper (pepper helps curcumin in turmeric to be absorbed by the body).

Avocado

A superfood for a few years now, the avocado is going nowhere due to its grammability (#AvoToast) and the healthy fats it provides (it is a staple in keto diets). 

Try: There’s the OG avocado toast, but you can eat it in guacamole form, or simply slice and add to a grain/salad bowl.

Garlic

This strong contender is good for the heart, contains antioxidants, and may help prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Try: Make Garlic Bread, or add garlic oil to flavour creamy soups!

Beets

The red-bodied stepchild is a favourite pick for 2020 due to its antioxidant properties – beets also help improve blood circulation and maintain a clean delivery system for all your other nutrients. 

Try: Cut up some luscious beets and add goat cheese, apple slices and arugula for a healthy salad.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like pickles, miso, kimchi, yogurt and kefir are good for your gut – they promote the growth of healthy bacteria, which help regulate metabolism and boost immunity.

Try: Add miso to your soup broths, or add kimchi to your curries for an extra boost of flavour.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a type of plant fibre that lay the groundwork for probiotics and promote gut health. Good sources are asparagus, chicory and oats. 

Try: Roasted asparagus goes well with polenta, mashed potatoes and balsamic vinegar.

Pulses

Think peas, lentils, and beans – they are rich in protein (most vegetarian diets rely on them for protein), carbs and fiber.

Try: Lentil soups for the win! Slow-cook them french style.

Seeds

Sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds are all good to add to your diet – they have healthy fats, vitamins, fiber, protein and minerals.

Try: Add chia seeds to your overnight oats or breakfast parfaits.

Microgreens

Basically the miniature version of most greens – kale and mustard greens are good examples, packed with vitamins and minerals. 

Try: Get a dose by adding them to your grain bowls/salads.

Dragon Fruit

Fiber, vitamins, minerals, and exceptionally photogenic for the ‘gram. Need we say more?

Try: Slice this gorgeous fruit and use it to top off your smoothie bowls. Don’t forget to take a picture!

 

Regardless of superfood status, adding healthy, nutrient-rich foods to our diet can go a long way in building immunity and lowering the risks of diseases. Ask your GP if you are unsure of what to eat, when. At Gogodoc, our online video consultations with qualified doctors can help you manage your nutrition and health – book a same-day appointment today! And tell us in the comments which of these superfoods you are most likely to consume 🙂

 

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March 13, 2020 by Community Manager 0 Comments

Monitor Your Health : Preventive Tests And When To Take Them

When was the last time you had a complete health checkup? Or are you one of those people who only goes to the doctor when something hurts enough to interfere with your lifestyle? We are totally not judging, but just wanted to get on here and remind you that the first step to maintenance, especially in health matters, is monitoring. This is where preventive tests (or screenings) come in.

 

Screenings look for specific indicators of a particular illness or disease in seemingly healthy people. The tests are based off of existing research and the frequency requirements and recommendations for testing are updated as the research updates. The NHS has a list of screenings it provides as part of its service and can be found on their website (or talk to a doctor about it). Screenings help you understand the condition of your health and how best to move forward, should something come back positive (positive meaning the indicators for the illness are present). Screenings are typically ‘recommended’ and not ‘mandatory’ because they are very personal – test results can sometimes be associated with difficult decisions – like terminating a pregnancy because a test shows the fetus is at risk for something, or having to make treatment decisions for life-altering illnesses. Regardless, being aware of preventive screenings and when to take them will help you take charge of your health.

 

Here is a list of common preventive screenings – some of these are administered by the NHS. This list is by no means comprehensive, and your GP will be able to best help you get the type of screening you require, based on your health needs.

 

For Pregnant Women

Screening for possible birth defects, syndromes, infectious diseases and abnormalities – a gynecologist or physician should be able to refer and decipher results.

 

For Children

Hearing Test and physical examination (including bloodwork) is common.

For Women 

Breast Cancer screening – X-ray mammography screenings for women over 50 (every 1-2 years)

Cervical Cancer screening – checks for the health of cervical cells and helps in the early detection of cervical cancer. every 3 years for those in the 25-49 age range and every 5 years for 50-64.

 

For Men

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening (AAA) – For men, and typically around the age of 65

General Screenings

Eye Tests for Diabetics – Anyone aged 12 and above with a  diabetic condition can get an eye test to check for retinopathy

STD screening – for sexually active adults 

Bowel Cancer Screening – Adults over the age of 55, most times a one-off test

 

 

Apart from these, cancer screenings, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, and medication use review should be considered if you are at risk due to genetic, lifestyle, or other factors. There are very many tests out there, but fret not! Talk to your doctor.

Your GP can refer you for most screening procedures (screenings for pregnant women and children might need specialist referrals) and will receive a copy of the results to best direct you on next steps. If you are looking for a GP appointment with no wait time, book your home visit with a Gogodoc GP today  – we have same-day appointments in most cases. Or simply get an online video consultation with our doctors and monitor your health from the comfort of your home. Leave us a comment if you have any questions 🙂

 

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March 12, 2020 by Community Manager 11 Comments

Vitamin Gummies – Yay or Nay?

Who wants to say no to some childlike fun while also boosting their health? Vitamin Gummies may have been created for people that were unable to swallow tablets, but it has grown in popularity primarily because it’s fun while promising to be healthy.

Gummies pack just about the same nutrients as the tablet versions, sometimes even more, if some supplement testers are to be believed. They have steadily grown in popularity and found their way into trends and celeb culture, but the nutrition world is still divided on whether they work. 

The argument for Gummies is that they deliver nutrition in an easy-to-consume form, and that they are not much different from other supplements out there. The argument against is that they aren’t great for oral health (you need to brush after gummies as they tend to leave behind residue).

Take it a step further and there’s the larger question – do we need vitamin supplements at all? The answer isn’t as simple as we would like it to be. The NHS published an article a year and a half ago detailing studies that showed no correlation between vitamin supplements and any reduction in cardiovascular disease (or death in general). The conclusion they arrived at was that it was best to get the necessary vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet, rather than rely on supplements.

It is entirely possible that we are not taking supplements as they are intended to be taken. There is a push with this generation to take charge of our own health and rather than ‘supplementing’ our nutrition needs with gummies, we might just be consuming more of it because we consider it a ‘good thing’. This is a dangerous slope – vitamins in higher doses can actually cause harm – like vitamin B12, which causes dizziness, headache and nausea in large, unnecessary doses. Or that scary story of a man needing a liver transplant because he took too many green tea pills. 

Understanding our nutritional needs (a quick online consultation with your doctor can help!) is paramount. Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are also important. So when might you need a supplement?

  • If you have a specific deficiency due to your lifestyle or diet habits 
  • If you have a dietary restriction that prevents you from getting vitamins the natural way (eg., vegan diets do not have B12 so there might be a need for supplements)
  • Pregnant women may need folic acid supplements
  • Women with heavy periods may have an iron deficiency and a need for supplements
  • Special circumstances – residents in the UK are advised to take vitamin D supplements in the autumn and winter months since we do not get enough sun for the body to synthesize this naturally
  • When your doctor recommends a supplement based on your current health needs
  • Children are usually recommended Vitamin A, C and D as supplements

 

Bottomline, not all bodies are created equal, so neither can nutritional needs. The best way to go about maintaining your health is to figure out what your body needs, and then make it as fun as possible to do that.

 

If you are unsure whether you need a supplement, in gummy or tablet form, ask your doctor – schedule an online video consultation with a Gogodoc doctor to understand your health needs and how best to go about living your best life. Our £20 online doctor consultation services are the best way to get expert health advice without having to leave your couch!

 

But the question still remains – if you passed by vitamin gummies in the Supermarket, would you still pick it up? Tell us in the comments!

June 28, 2019 by Community Manager 12 Comments

Stay safe in the sun this summer

I intended to write this article on the first day of summer. But as I sat on my sun-kissed desk in California, a place known for its warm, dry summers, opal sky and scantily-clad liberals, I figured I better check the weather in London before continuing. With a few weeks of drizzle and clouds, it seems that summer in London is finally on the horizon.

The following are some of the health benefits that exposure to sunlight can bring, including tips to stay safe.

Whereas exposure to excessive levels of sunlight is detrimental to our health, moderate exposure can boost our physical and mental state. The aim is to enjoy the sun sensibly, to make enough vitamin D, while not increasing the risk of skin cancer.

 

HEALTH BENEFITS

 

1) Improves the quality of sleep

Waking up in sync with the sun’s natural light switches off melatonin, a hormone made in your pineal gland, associated with sleep onset. This is the reason why you feel alert during your waking hours and tired at bedtime – and discombobulated when you cross time zones after a long-haul flight. It is, therefore, a good idea to open the curtains in the morning and avoid artificial light once the sun goes down.

People with irregular sleeping schedules often have trouble sleeping or feel tired during waking hours. Several studies have shown that chronic disruption of circadian rhythms can lead to weight gain, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioural changes – analogous to the changes observed in people who experience shift work or jet lag.

 

2) Reduces risk of some cancers

Prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, but vitamin D is also known to be protective against several cancers, including of the colon, kidney and breast. In a study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute, it was found that high levels of sunlight were significantly associated with reduced mortality from breast and colon cancer. Similar effects were seen in the bladder, womb, oesophagus and stomach cancer.

 

3) Improves mood

Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. It’s no surprise that spending time outdoors improves mood and relieves stress. Lack of sunlight exposure in some people can even trigger a type of depression known as a seasonal affective disorder, which is treated with light therapy.

 

4) Lowers blood pressure

Rates of hypertension tend to be higher in the winter and in countries farther from the equator. A possible explanation is that exposure to sunlight causes nitric oxide in the skin to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which can help widen blood vessels and lower the pressure inside them.

 

5) Can help with some skin disorders

Sunlight can improve several skin complaints, such as psoriasis, eczema and acne. Indeed, eczema and psoriasis are sometimes treated with UV light (phototherapy). However, sunlight can aggravate other skin conditions, particularly rosacea.

 

6) Improves the musculoskeletal system

It is common knowledge that vitamin D is important for healthy bones by helping the body absorb calcium. In a 2013 large Danish study, researchers found that having a history of skin cancer was linked to a lower risk of hip fractures. This may be because those who developed skin cancer also had prolonged sun exposure.

Vitamin D is also important to muscle health, and people with low levels are more likely to experience muscle cramps and joint pain.

 

TIPS TO STAY SAFE

 

There are of course risks associated with sunlight. Prolonged exposure causes damage to the epidermis and to other parts of the skin such as the supporting elastic tissue in the dermis. This damage is known as actinic (solar) elastosis, and gives the skin a baggy, wrinkled appearance. A significant risk factor for malignant melanoma is sunburn, especially during childhood.

 

1) Duration

One of the major benefits of basking in the sun is to make vitamin D, which is useful because there is very little found in typical dietary sources. To prevent deficiency of vitamin D, it is recommended to have 2-3 sun exposures per week. Each exposure should last 20-30 minutes and be to bare skin.

 

2) Stay hydrated

Aim to drink more than the standard eight glasses a day. And get creative: put some frozen berries in your water or even some mint leaves and lime slices. Opt for snacks with high-water content such as watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes and cucumbers.

 

3) Wear sunscreen

Look for at least an SPF 30 and wear it when you know you’ll be out and about during the day. Wear sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection. Blocking UVB may prevent burning (which is what the SPF number indicates), but UVA still delivers skin-damaging radiation (and isn’t rated).

 

CONCLUSION

To summarise, try to have 2-3 sun exposures per week, but avoid the sun when it is strong; and when you think you’re exceeding the recommended limit, cover up, or use high-factor sunscreen.

June 13, 2019 by Community Manager 13 Comments

Red meat intake linked with higher risk of death in study of 81,469 adults

Increased red meat intake — especially processed red meat — is tied to increased risk of death over 8 years, according to results today in the British Medical Journal.

Results also suggested that substituting red meat with healthier alternatives, such as whole grains or vegetables, may lower the risk for death.

 

Making sense of the beef with red meat

This long-term study provides further evidence that reducing red meat intake while eating other protein foods or more whole grains and vegetables may reduce risk of premature death.

Red meat, especially processed meat, contains saturated fat, high levels of sodium, preservatives, and potential carcinogens that can contribute to health problems.

Eating red meat has been tied to increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Processed red meat, like hot dogs and bacon, has been linked to an even larger number of health problems, as well as increased risk for death.

 

Study details

The authors of the study analysed data from two prospective US cohort studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (53,553 women) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (27,916 men). Participants were free from cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline.

An important factor in the study is that the researchers looked at the change in consumption over time, rather than actual intake of red meat.

After adjusting for age, race, smoking, alcohol consumption, and several other factors, including baseline red meat consumption, the researchers found that increasing total red meat consumption by up to 3.5 servings per week over 8 years was linked to 10% higher risk for death compared with no change in red meat consumption.

When they distinguished between processed and unprocessed red meat, they found a similar trend, with the risk associated with processed meat higher than that for unprocessed meat. Specifically, increased consumption of processed red meat by up to 3.5 servings per week was tied to 13% increased risk for death, whereas the same increase in unprocessed red meat consumption was tied to 9% increased risk for death.

Results were similar regardless of age, physical activity level, diet quality, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Results were also similar with 4- and 12-year changes in consumption.

Risk for death decreased when one serving per day of red meat was replaced with one serving per day of nuts, whole grains, vegetables without legumes, dairy, eggs, and legumes.

 

Consistent with previous data

During the past decade, much has been written on diet and the association with cancer risk. A number of studies have found varying associations between the consumption of red meat and cancer.

In a recent study, published this year in the International Journal of Epidemiology, authors found that consuming a moderate amount of red or processed meat is associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

According to their findings, an average of 76 grams of red meat or processed meat a day, which is in line with current government recommendations from the United Kingdom, was associated with a 20% higher chance of developing colorectal cancer as compared to consuming only about 21 grams a day.

The primary dataset used in this study is the UK Biobank cohort, comprised of almost 500,000 participants.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund published several reports during the past 10 years or so on the effect of diet, nutrition, and/or physical activity on risk for several cancer types.

Their most recent study, published in 2017, found that consuming red meat and processed meat may increase the risk for colorectal cancer, as may drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day. On the flip side, eating whole grains daily and ramping up activity levels can reduce the risk.

 

Conclusion

It is becoming increasingly clear that replacing meat with healthy plant based foods, such as vegetables or whole grains, can improve longevity.

But the health benefits of keeping meat of the menu is only one side of the issue. For conscience-stricken individuals, it is the colossal death and destruction caused by animal agriculture that makes meat unpalatable.

February 22, 2019 by Community Manager 0 Comments

Teenagers are at risk using cannabis, experts warn

Researchers from UK and Canada carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis that measured cannabis use during adolescence, and evaluated the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality during young adulthood.

Among a cohort of 23,317 individuals, adolescent cannabis consumption was associated with a 37% increased risk of developing depression later in life.

The authors note that these findings should act as a warning to families and inform public health policy and governments to apply preventive strategies to cannabis use among youth.

 

The risks of cannabis

This study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to quantify the actual risk in this way.

Among the increased risks of depression, the authors also investigated whether there was an association with anxiety and suicide attempts.

There was an increased risk of anxiety developing in young adulthood, but this was not considered statistically significant.

However, teenagers who used cannabis were three times more likely to try to kill themselves. The association between cannabis and suicidal behaviour has also been reported in previous studies.

Short term side effects of cannabis use range from anxiety and paranoia to problems with attention, memory and coordination. This explains why stoned drivers are twice as likely to crash their cars as nonusers.

Mental health problems are one of the greatest long-term effect concerns. Daily users have a doubled risk of developing schizophrenia in their lives compared to the general population, though the risk of other less serious mental health issues is even greater. Other issues include adverse birth outcomes during use in pregnancy and increased prevalence of respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis.

 

Cause and correlation

This study does not definitively prove that cannabis use causes depression and suicidal ideation. At best, one can only conclude that there is a strong correlation.

This is because of the impact cannabis has on the developing brain.

The adolescent brain is still under development and psychotropic drugs used during this time may disturb neurodevelopment, especially of the frontal cortex and limbic system.

To definitively confirm causation, studies would have to be conducted on young people, which of course is deemed unethical.

However, it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to postulate a causative link between a powerful mind-altering drug and mental health issues.

 

Conclusion

The cannabis leaf has become the symbol of the supposed sovereignty over the self, and propaganda runs rampant on social media to portray it as an astonishing wonder drug. There is thus an urgent need to implement better drug use prevention programs and interventions aimed at educating adolescents to resist peer pressure on drug consumption.

January 13, 2019 by Community Manager 0 Comments

‘Give HIV the Finger’

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body’s defence against infectious organisms and other invaders. If HIV is left untreated, a person’s immune system will get progressively weaker until it can no longer fight off life-threatening infections and diseases. However, the rate at which HIV progresses varies depending on age, general health and background. Testing regularly for HIV means you can get antiretroviral treatment if you need it and stay healthy.

The ‘give HIV the finger’ pun refers to the free postal finger-prick test that people can receive for testing without attending a clinic.

 

HIV in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK) has a relatively small HIV epidemic, with an estimated 101,200 people living with HIV in 2015. Just over 5,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2016, according to the data from Public Health England. This is an 18% decline from 2015.

The epidemic is largely concentrated among certain key populations, including men who have sex with men and black African populations. 54% of diagnoses were among gay and bisexual men; 19% and 22% among heterosexual men and women, respectively.

Late diagnosis is an important predictor of morbidity and premature death in people with HIV. In 2016, 42% diagnoses were made at a late stage of infection when treatment is less effective.

 

Current Screening Tests

HIV postal test kits allow people to take a finger-prick blood sample themselves. The samples are sent to a local laboratory for HIV testing. The test is highly accurate and can detect HIV within four weeks after infection.

These tests give a result of ‘reactive’ (positive) or ‘non-reactive’ (negative); reactive results are further classified into ‘high’ and ‘low’ reactive tests. A highly reactive result is suggestive of a HIV infection.

Patients providing a specimen reactive in the screening assay, but not confirmed to be consistent with HIV infection, should be retested using a fresh blood specimen collected at least two weeks later.

Ideally, a HIV antibody test should be performed on venous blood. Most laboratories in the UK use ‘fourth generation’ HIV screening tests. They detect anti-HIV (nearly all can detect the three main Ig classes: IgM, IgG and IgA) and p24 antigen. All patients whose first specimen indicates evidence of HIV infection must have their HIV status confirmed by tests on a second sample collected at another time.

HIV home sampling could potentially improve our ability to identify cases of HIV by targeting people at risk who do not use traditional testing venues such as sexual health clinics. The results data collected between 2015 and 2016 showed that 1.1% of tests submitted via the national postal testing scheme were ‘reactive’ and 0.7% were ‘high reactive’, compared to just 0.3% of tests finding HIV positive results from specialist sexual health clinics.

 

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

The definition of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is based on a potentially life-threatening infection or cancer seen in the immunosuppressed. Patients who have been diagnosed with AIDS have a greater risk of opportunistic infections. The most common AIDS-defining illnesses include:

  1. Tuberculosis
  2. Recurrent bacterial pneumonia
  3. Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia
  4. Kaposi’s sarcoma
  5. Lymphoma
  6. Cerebral toxoplasmosis
  7. Cryptococcal meningitis
  8. Intestinal cryptosporidiosis

Patients diagnosed late during HIV infection are at an increased risk of developing AIDS and are more likely to transmit HIV to others. This is one of the key challenges facing the UK, despite rates of late diagnosis being on the decline. In 2017, 428 people died from AIDS-related illnesses due to being diagnosed late. Nevertheless, the number of people diagnosed with AIDS-defining illnesses is declining and fell by 25% from 2015 to 2016.

 

Counselling

Patients identified as being at high-risk for HIV or those with concerns should be offered more in-depth discussion or counselling, in addition to a test. A brief pre-test discussion, explaining that routine HIV testing is recommended, is appropriate, with the aim of obtaining informed verbal consent.

 

Other methods to increase the uptake of testing

The Department of Health recommendation is that patients who come from countries where prevalence of HIV infection is high (>0.5%), all adults presenting to the emergency department in the UK should be tested (with consent). Also, all new patients registering at a GP should be tested. Testing in other outpatient departments, e.g. colposcopy and dermatology should also be carried out.

All patients attending sexual health clinics should be offered a HIV test on an ‘opt-out’ basis, and an information leaflet should be used to increase uptake of HIV antibody testing.

 

The future

Not too long ago, a diagnosis of HIV and AIDS was considered to be a death sentence. This has fortunately changed over the past decade, owing to significant progress made in the provision of antiretroviral treatment and gradual upliftment of the stigma that is attached to the condition.

Progress is still to be made, however, as late diagnosis rates continue to be high. People living with an undiagnosed infection have worse health outcomes and pose a public health risk as they are more likely to pass the virus on to others. Homosexual men and black Africans are still at a heightened risk of HIV. Further, the younger generation has lost some fear of HIV because of the success of treatment, causing them to engage in risky behaviours. These issues can be rectified by narrowing the gaps in HIV prevention and education schemes.

If you have any concerns or questions, you can get help from sexual health clinics, charities, or your GP.