Gareth Thomas has pushed the envelope in his sporting career, with a long list of highlights which include winning four rugby league caps for Wales. Gareth is also a torchbearer for progressive values, having campaigned for gay rights since he came out in 2009. In September of last year, Gareth opened up about his starkest challenge yet – being diagnosed with HIV, revealing that it drove the former Rugby player to suicidal thoughts.
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He told the Sunday Mirror: “I’ve been living with this secret for years. I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.
“I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff. To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.”
Gareth admitted being utterly beside himself when he got the news of the diagnosis.
He said: “When (the doctor) said those words … I immediately thought I was going to die. I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?”’
Since opening up about his diagnosis, Gareth has received an outpouring of support from the general public and prominent figures, such as Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry.
What is HIV?
According to the NHS, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
The term is often incorrectly interchanged with AIDS, but as the explains, AIDS is a potentially life-threatening infection that can develop as a result of the HIV virus.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most people experience a short flu-like illness two to six weeks after HIV infection, which lasts for a week or two, noted the health site.
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After these symptoms disappear, HIV may not cause any symptoms for many years, although the virus continues to damage your immune system,” it explains.
This means many people with HIV do not know they’re infected.
How is the infection treated?
While there’s no cure for HIV, there are very effective treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
Gareth now takes one tablet containing four medications each day, and doctors have said his condition is under control to the point that it is considered “undetectable” and cannot be passed on.
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As the NHS explains, HIV is treated with antiretroviral medications, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body.
“This allows the immune system to repair itself and prevent further damage,” says the health site.
It is also important to note that different combinations of HIV medicines work for different people, so the medicine you take will be individual to you, adds the health body.
How is HIV contracted?
According to Bupa, HIV is passed on from person to person as an STI, but it can also be passed on if people are in contact with infected blood, such as through contaminated needles or syringes.
“Some people may still pass on the infection through unprotected sex even if they’re taking antiretroviral medicines for HIV,” notes the health body.
So, it’s important to practise safe sex by always using a condom.
If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who has HIV or is at high risk of HIV, Bupa says to visit a sexual health clinic or Accident and Emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible.
“You can take a course of antiretroviral medicines straightaway (called post-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce your risk of becoming infected,” it adds.
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