GETTING TESTED FOR HIV
THE IMPORTANCE OF TESTING
Condomless anal sex, condomless vaginal sex, or sharing injecting equipment are all activities that can put you at risk of HIV by allowing bodily fluids (e.g. blood, semen, rectal fluid, pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) or vaginal fluid) to enter your body, and possibly your bloodstream.
Being tested regularly for HIV is simple, quick and made convenient with multiple testing sites in major cities across Australia as well as testing being made available through General Practitioners. There are also a number of community-based testing services around the country, including those that are led by peers.
REGULARITY IS KEY
Gay men and other men who have sex with men are recommended to have a full sexual health check (tests for all STIs, including HIV), at least once a year, and up to four times a year if they are in one or more of these categories:
- have had any condomless anal sex
- have more than 10 sexual partners in 6 months
- participate in group sex
- use crystal meth.
UNDERSTANDING HIV RAPID TESTING
Traditional HIV testing, where blood is drawn and sent to the laboratory for testing can take several days or more to get a result. Rapid Testing uses a pinprick of the finger (or oral fluid, depending on the test) and returns results within 10 to 20 minutes.
Most rapid HIV tests detect HIV antibodies; however some can also test for the presence of the virus itself. A ‘reactive’ (or preliminary positive) result on a rapid HIV test is not a HIV diagnosis, as rapid HIV tests produce a small number of false positive results. For this reason, a reactive rapid HIV test result must always be confirmed by laboratory tests.
HIV self-testing (also known as home-based testing) is where HIV testing is conducted in the home or similar environment by a community member. They use the same technology as rapid HIV tests. HIV self-testing will be an important testing option for many people in Australia. There are currently no HIV self-testing kits approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). AFAO and other HIV organisations are hopeful Australia will have HIV self-testing in the near future.
Although no HIV self-tests have been approved in Australia, it is possible to purchase tests over the internet. If you are considering this option ensure that you select a test that is:
- safe and credible
- approved by relevant authorities in comparable countries
- approved specifically for home use, so the test:
- is designed to be able to be used by people at home (rather than clinicians), and
- has instructions for home use (rather than instructions for a clinician which may be difficult to understand)
Some HIV test kits sold online are advertised for home use, but the product supplied is for use by clinicians (including instructions for clinicians).
WHERE TO TEST
You can find details for a range of clinics where you can get tested, including public sexual health clinics, on the Drama Downunder, Ending HIV and Time to Test websites. Although these websites are targeted to gay men and other men who have sex with men, most testing services listed on these websites see all people. The Ending HIV and Time to Test websites also indicate which services offer rapid testing.
Sexual health clinics provide free and confidential testing services. You can download the Register of Public Sexual Health Clinics from here.
If you feel more comfortable being tested by a gay friendly doctor, your local AIDS Council can advise on where to find one.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can find details of where to test on the Better to Know website.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
The process of becoming HIV positive is referred to as seroconversion. When this occurs some people exhibit signs and symptoms known as a ‘seroconversion illness’.
While they may be easy to overlook, signs may include a rash, fever, aching body, fatigue or a simple persistent flu-like illness.
It is important to note that many people do not present symptoms shortly after exposure to HIV. For this reason, it is important to test regularly in order to be aware of your HIV and sexual health status as often as possible.