A MUM was unknowingly infected with HIV and the stigma surrounding her diagnosis was so bad she almost ended her life.
Emma McAnally was shocked when she received a positive HIV result about six years ago and has urged every woman to get checked.
The 33-year-old, who lives near Glasgow, went to a sexual health clinic after suffering from on-and-off flu-like symptoms a few weeks after having sex.
Around 80% of people with HIV suffer from flu-like symptoms two to six weeks after being infected.
Tests revealed Emma was positive for HIV and for a while, the news had a devastating impact on her mental health, leading her to feel completely alone.
She told The Mirror: “Thirty years ago, HIV was seen as a death sentence but now you can live a long and healthy life.
“The biggest thing is getting over the stigma.
“This can happen to anyone. I never thought it would be me but I am determined not to let it define me.”
Emma wants to urge women to get checked and spread awareness about who this disease affects.
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She said: “I was in shock and disbelief.
“I had been led to believe this illness didn’t affect my demographic.”
Around a third of people living with HIV in Britain are women but they are more likely to be diagnosed later than gay men despite infection rates for heterosexual and same sex relations being about the same.
This means poorer recovery and prevention rates for women, made worse by the stigma that surrounds it.
“When I told some close friends and family about the diagnosis, the response was horrific,” Emma added.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone. I went into a dark place mentally,” she continued.
Sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust, reported that three-quarters of those with HIV experience prejudice – and a third from family or friends.
However life turned around for the mental health nurse when she became pregnant with her son, after she knew it would be safe.
She says: “I didn’t feel alone or ashamed any more. I had something worth living for.
“I’ve never felt as confident in my body and mind.”
But misconceptions around the disease were even present in the hospital when she was in labour.
According to Emma, she was told by a midwife that a water birth and breastfeeding would be dangerous for the baby – but this is not the case.
Now, the mum-of-one is about to welcome her second child into the world with new partner Paul, who was completely supportive of Emma after she informed him about the diagnosis.
Paul was told about two weeks into their relationship and Emma said: “He took my hand and said it didn’t change anything.
“All that really matters to me is what I think of myself and how my family and close friends see me.”
She added: “Don’t be scared of what you might learn. There’s hope and you can live well with HIV.”
Neither Emma’s four-year-old son, nor Paul are HIV positive.
She takes medication every day to keep her alive.
Where can you be tested for STDs
A sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic specialises in sexual health, and can provide tests and treatment for many STIs.
You can make an appointment to go to an STI clinic, or sometimes there’s a drop-in clinic, which means you can just turn up without the need for an appointment.
You can go to a sexual health clinic whether you’re male or female, whatever your age, regardless of whether or not you have STI symptoms. If you’re under 16, the service is still confidential and the clinic won’t tell your parents.
You may be asked:
- when you last had sex
- whether you’ve had unprotected sex
- whether you have any symptoms
- why you think you might have an infection
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