A man who contracted HIV during a one-night stand has praised Eastenders for bringing light to the disease after he thought the virus 'was a thing of the past' before his diagnosis.
Jay Hawkridge, 29, became HIV positive in 2019 after having unprotected sex with another man he had been speaking to, the Manchester Evening News reports.
A few days later, Jay was seriously unwell and came down with a fever that left him feeling very nauseous. When he took himself to A&E, his blood test results came back negative for HIV but around a month and a half later he booked a STI test after suspecting he had contracted an infection.
The 29-year-old admits feeling very 'confused' when he was learned of his HIV diagnosis in October 2019 as he had barely 'any knowledge' of the virus and did not know how it would affect his future. He has since praised soap Eastenders for spreading awareness about the disease through their upcoming 'monumental' storyline about a character called Zack Hudson who finds out he is HIV positive in coming weeks.
The content creator from Leeds believes it's important young people are more educated on the topic as he confessed: “I barely had any knowledge of HIV before I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed back in September 2019, before It's A Sin, before I’d watched Pose, and before a few of the big cultural events that have happened in the last couple of years.
"I come from a really rural upbringing, and I didn’t have many friends in the LGBTQ+ community. I had no real reason to believe that HIV was something I needed to be thinking about or protecting myself from.
"So, when I was diagnosed, it was a massive shock. I thought, ‘wait, what, this is still around?’ I’d never heard anyone in my life mention it so it was really hard for me to grasp at first.”
Referring to the Eastenders storyline, he added: “It is important for people living with the condition to feel represented, but also in terms of educating people. There is still more that can be done but education has skyrocketed in the past couple of years.
“I think it is really nice when I have conversations with people that I meet and I don’t have to explain anymore. I think the new age of media is doing an awful lot of good for representation.”
Jay, who contracted the virus during the Covid pandemic, used a lot of his time during lockdown to research HIV and understand the facts and reality of his situation. He now takes medication to manage his condition and is unable to pass the disease onto anyone else.
He said: “In all honestly, it doesn’t impact my life. It is lovely to know there are no prohibitions to my life. I take two pills a day to manage my condition and I am unable to transmit it to a partner for the rest of my life.
"I have been a relationship for the last couple of months, it has been a slow solidly building thing, it has been really nice. My first relationship since becoming public with my status – my first foray into dating again, it's nice to have that stabilising and love.”
Jay has since confided with his family and friends about his illness but admits it was really 'daunting' and took him a few months. He also praised the tv show 'It's A Sin' as he explained: "It was an important show for me as it was a really nice resource to turn people to so I wouldn’t have to explain constantly about living with HIV."
In Eastenders, Zack is set to find out that he too is HIV positive, and the show will educate viewers on what it is like when you are adjusting to life with HIV. Inspirational Jay also uses his platform and his knowledge of the disease to raise awareness to others after he felt too 'vulnerable' to tell anyone about his diagnosis for months.
He said: “Most of the groundwork that I do at the minute is one-to-one; talking to people online and signposting people to the places where they can get informed. I didn’t feel like I was prepared with the knowledge myself, it was intimidating and to let people into an issue I didn’t have much confidence with was scary."
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