BBC / Kieron McCarron

Zack Hudson’s HIV diagnosis storyline on EastEnders has sparked a surge in viewers wanting to learn more about the virus.

In Monday night’s (16 January) episode, the character, who is played by James Farrar, received the news that he is HIV-positive.

He decided to get tested after his old friend Brett showed up in Albert Square and informed him that he had the virus, meaning Zack could also be positive as a result of the two previously sharing steroid needles.

The storyline, which is sure to become increasingly prominent in the coming months, resulted in HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust seeing a 75% increase in people visiting its website after the episode aired as viewers sought to learn more about the virus.

The most popular pages were how HIV is transmitted, stages of HIV infection, symptoms of HIV and post-exposure prophylaxis, the charity told GAY TIMES.

The team at Terrence Higgins Trust worked closely with EastEnders on the storyline to ensure it accurately depicted what it is like to live with HIV in 2023.

Ian Green, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The spike in our charity’s website traffic shows that Zack’s diagnosis has already started conversations in living rooms across the UK, and these much-needed discussions around the reality of HIV today will continue as his story unfolds.

“During the height of the HIV epidemic in the 1990s, we worked with EastEnders on Mark Fowler’s storyline to ensure HIV was portrayed accurately on screen.

“Mark’s story was groundbreaking – it helped change a generation’s attitude about HIV at a time when hysteria was rife.

“We’re delighted to be working with the BBC again on Zack’s storyline to show how much medical progress has been made since the Mark Fowler days, but also how stigma continues to be a huge burden on the lives of people living with HIV.”

Green explained that stigma surrounding the virus “acts as a barrier that prevents many from getting tested and knowing their status.”

He continued: “Today, if you test positive for HIV, effective treatment means you cannot pass on the virus to partners and can expect to live as long as someone who is HIV negative.

“Someone like Zack is able to live a normal and fulfilling life thanks to the incredible advancements around HIV – but it starts with a test – and with National HIV Testing Week on the horizon, there’s no better time to get tested and know your status.”

Terrence Higgins Trust runs a free and confidential helpline called THT direct. They provide advice, support and information about HIV, including where people can go for a HIV test and how HIV is transmitted. THT Direct is here to help between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Friday, on 0808 802 1221.