Traditional Testing

HIV testing

If you are having sex, it is a good idea to get tested for HIV at least once a year. Testing every 3 – 6 months is recommended for men who have a lot of sex with different guys. You may also consider having a test if you have had condomless anal sex, or starting a new relationship. The HIV blood test detects HIV antibodies not the virus itself. This is NOT a test for AIDS. Antibodies are part of the body’s natural defence system, which show up when germs or viruses enter the body. HIV antibodies can take up to 12 weeks to show up in a test from when HIV was first passed on. This is called the “window period”.

What happens in a HIV test?

Taking a sexual history

The doctor or nurse will take a sexual history before testing. They will ask you questions about your sex life including:
  • Current and previous sexual partners
  • Partners from overseas
  • Sexual practices (i.e. anal or vaginal sex etc)

Pre test discussion

In Victoria, the law requires that you receive a pre and post test discussion about HIV and HIV testing. This has to happen in person. The pre test discussion will help you to decide whether or not you need to have it. The doctor, counsellor or nurse will talk to you about:
  • What the test is for;
  • What it would mean if the test were either Positive or Negative;
  • Safe sex and safe injecting;
  • How to get support during the waiting time.
  • Remember, the decision about whether to have a test or not is yours.

Before taking a test, you might want to think about telling one or two friends so that you have some support. Think about whom you might tell—it’s a good idea NOT to tell everyone you know, otherwise they all might want to know the result. When you do tell people that you are taking the test or what the test results are, be very clear about how confidential you want that kept. You might not want them to tell other people. Some people find talking to a trained counsellor helpful while they are thinking about issues around HIV.

Getting the results

By law, the results can only be given to you in person and accompanied by post-test counselling if they return a positive result. If you test HIV-positive the doctor, counsellor or nurse can help you consider the following issues:
  • Coping with the result;
  • The effect on family and friends;
  • Thinking about who to tell;
  • What support you can access;
  • What treatment options are available to you; and
  • Possible discrimination by employers, doctors, dentists or even other gay men.

You may also be asked to help contact your past and present sex partners. Someone will be available to help you do this confidentially. Discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, finance and travel are mostly illegal. You might also be able to take legal action if someone tells someone else you’re HIV-positive without your permission.

STI testing

When to have a STI test

If you are having sex, it is a good idea to get tested at least once a year. Testing every 3 – 6 months is recommended for men who have a lot of sex with different guys. Even if you show no symptoms, it is possible to have an STI and pass on the infection. Testing is the only way to know.

Indications (i.e. symptoms) that you may have an STI include:
  • An unusual discharge from your cock;
  • Itching or stinging when you urinate;
  • Sores, blisters or rashes in the genital area.

If you are in a new relationship, monogamous or otherwise, it is advisable to get a check-up as you may have contracted an STI from a previous partner. Routine sexual health screens may include blood testing for HIV, syphilis and the hepatitis A, B and C viruses.

What happens in an STI test?

Taking a sexual history

The doctor or nurse will take a sexual history before testing. They will ask you questions about your sex like including:
  • Current and previous sexual partners
  • Partners from overseas
  • Sexual practices (i.e. anal or vaginal sex, fisting)

Types of tests

An STI test can be done regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. If you do not have any symptoms you will have a urine test. Don’t worry you don’t have to urinate in front of the nurse or doctor; the sample can be taken in the privacy of the toilet at the clinic. A urine sample is the ‘first passed urine’, so the sample is best taken at least two hours after you have urinated or the first time you urinate for the day.

In a full sexual health check up a swab can be taken from your cock or arse, or an ulcer or sore, and this is more likely if you have symptoms of an STI; a swab will be taken with what looks like a long cotton bud. Swabs can be taken from the mouth (throat), anus and cock depending on the sexual activity. Swabs are also best taken at least 2 hours after you have urinated. Some practitioners will let you take your own swabs if this is more comfortable for you. If you are concerned or feel uncomfortable about having swabs taken perhaps go to a sexual health clinic as they do these tests every day.

For blood-borne viruses (BBV), such as HIV, and hepatitis B and C and syphilis you will need to have a blood test. A small vial of blood will be taken for testing. Before taking blood, for HIV and hepatitis C, it is essential that the practitioner has discussed the test and possible outcomes with you, this is called the ‘pre-test discussion’ or ‘pre-test counselling’.

With all testing it is important to specify what you want to be tested for as they cannot test for STI’s and BBV’s without your permission. Talk to your practitioner if you are unsure what to be tested for. Test results will usually take 7 – 10 days to come back and you will need to make another appointment to receive these results in person. Post-test counselling is available and should be provided if you are receiving results for HIV or hepatitis C.

It is important to get regular sexual health checkups, both for your own sexual health and that of your partners.

Telling your partner

If you have an STI, talk to all the people you’ve had sex with recently and suggest they get tested. Sometimes this isn’t easy. You might find it hard to tell your sex partner you have an STI. Discuss how to talk to partners about STIs with your doctor, counsellor or friends.

It’s important to talk to your sex partners so they can get tested and treated too.

If you feel that you cannot tell your sexual partners there are other anonymous methods, such as the ‘Let Him Know’ service on the Drama Downunder website.

Rapid HIV testing

Rapid HIV Testing is very similar in process to traditional HIV testing, in that it involves pre and post test counselling, and the behavioural and support questions posed are the same. However it differs markedly in several ways, such as the way HIV is tested, the time it takes to get a result and what the result can mean.

What is rapid HIV testing?

Rapid HIV testing is a test to detect HIV anti-bodies using a finger prick or oral swab sample and it takes 15-20 minutes to provide a result.

Are the results the same as a traditional HIV test?

The results from a rapid HIV test are different to traditional HIV tests. There are three possibilities from having a rapid HIV test, these are:
  • Non-reactive – which means that HIV anti-bodies were not detected;
  • Reactive – which means that it is highly likely that HIV anti-bodies were detected; and
  • Invalid – which means that the test was most likely faulty.

If you receive a non-reactive result, you still need to take into account the window period, which refers to the amount of time it can take for the antibodies to show up in a test from when HIV was first passed on, and it is therefore recommended that you get tested again in 3 months time.

If you receive a reactive result, it is important to understand that this is a preliminary result and needs to be confirmed with traditional HIV testing as there is the small possibility that the device (oral swab or finger prick device) has returned a false positive, or shown a reaction when there is none. For the finger prick test, which is available in Australia, this occurs in about 1 test out of every 200 tests performed.

Where to get one

Currently only the finger prick rapid HIV test is available in Australia, and PRONTO! which is the only peer based rapid HIV testing service is LOCATED right here in Victoria. To find out more about rapid HIV tests, the PRONTO! service or to book a test click here.