HIV : The Basics.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via condomless sex or sharing injecting equipment.

HIV is the virus that can cause AIDS.

How is HIV Prevented?

There are many highly effective methods for preventing HIV, including UVL, PrEP, PEP and condoms, check the links to learn more about these methods and find what works for you.

What is AIDS?

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is not a single disease. It is a diagnosis that results from a variety of conditions that can occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged by HIV.

The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable. It is important to remember that a person who is living with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS. However, all people with AIDS have HIV.

Despite treatment advances made over the course of the epidemic there is no cure for HIV and no vaccine to prevent it.

For more information on HIV treatments head to treathivnow.org.au

There is no cure for HIV and no vaccine to prevent it

Watch this short video on HIV stigma

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is a communicable disease, but it is not contagious like air-borne viruses such as influenza.

HIV cannot be transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing. Nor can it be transmitted by sharing glasses, cups or utensils.

There are three main modes of HIV transmission:

  • Condomless sexual intercourse, including anal, vaginal or front hole sexual intercourse;
  • Sharing drug injecting equipment; and
  • Mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding

The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable

How is HIV detected?

HIV is detected by an HIV antibody test. When a person comes into contact with HIV, their immune system mounts a response, creating antibodies to the virus – it is these antibodies that are detected in an HIV test.

It can take up to 12 weeks for someone’s immune system to produce antibodies to HIV after initial contact with the virus. This is called the ‘window period’.

An HIV antibody test performed during the window period could be negative even though the person may be carrying the virus. There are now special blood tests which can detect HIV infection during the window period.


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 or front hole sex, or starting a new relationship.

If you are having sex, it is a good idea to get tested for HIV at least once a year.

What happens in an 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, vaginal or front hole sex etc)

Pre-test discussion

In Victoria, the law requires that you receive a pre- and post-test discussion about HIV and HIV testing. The pre-test discussion will help you to decide whether or not you need to have it.

The person giving you the test 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.

Getting the results

If you get a positive result, by law, the result can only be given to you in person and accompanied by a post-test discussion.

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; and
  • What treatment options are available to you.

You may also be asked to help contact your past and present sex partners. Someone will be available to help you do this confidentially.


STI Testing

When to have an 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 for sure.

Although it is possible to have no signs or symptoms of an STI, if you do have symptoms, they may 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 sexual health check as you might have contracted an STI from a previous partner. Routine sexual health tests may include a blood sample for HIV, syphilis and the hepatitis A, B and C viruses, as well as the collection of urine samples and an anal swab.

Testing every 3 – 6 months is recommended for men who have a lot of sex with different guys.

What happens in an STI test?

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, vaginal or front hole sex, oral sex etc)

Types of tests

Urine Test

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.

Swabs

In a full sexual health check-up, a swab can be taken from your mouth, genital area (i.e., cock, arse, vagina or front hole). 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 discuss this with your doctor.

Blood Tests

For blood-borne viruses (BBV), such as HIV, hepatitis A, B and C, and syphilis you will need to have a blood test. A small sample of blood will be taken for testing. Before taking blood, for BBVs, 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 know what you are being tested for

You cannot be tested for STI’s and BBV’s without your permission. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what you need 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 depending upon the test and the result. If all your tests are clear, it’s possible to be notified by text message by the clinic if you prefer.

It is important to get regular sexual health check-ups, to maintain 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. 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 ways you can do this anonymously via the ‘Let Him Know’ service on the Drama Downunder website.


Rapid HIV Testing

Rapid HIV Testing is very similar to traditional HIV testing. It involves a pre- and post-test discussion. This discussion will include 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 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. As the name suggests, the rapid test can give a result in 15 minutes. The more traditional HIV test can take up to a week to determine the result.

There are three possibilities from having a rapid HIV test, these are:

  • Non-reactive – which means that HIV anti-bodies were not detected in the test;
  • Reactive – which means that it is highly likely that HIV anti-bodies were detected; and
  • Invalid – which means that the test result was not clear.

Rapid HIV tests take 15 minutes to get a result

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 HIV antibodies to show up in a test.

For that reason it’s 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 possibility, (although rare) that the device (oral swab or finger prick device) has returned what is known as a ‘false positive’. This means that the test has shown a reaction when there is none. For the finger prick test, which is available in Australia, this occurs in about 1 out of every 200 tests performed.

Where to get a rapid HIV test

Rapid tests are available for free at PRONTO! which is a peer based rapid HIV testing service LOCATED right here in Melbourne. To find out more about rapid HIV tests, the PRONTO! service or to book a test click here.

A number of places offer rapid HIV testing across Australia, to find them click here


HOME BASED RAPID HIV TESTING

Recently, home based rapid HIV testing kits have been approved for use in Australia.

What is a HIV self-test kit?

The HIV self-test is a small cartridge containing a paper test strip. It is similar in size and shape to a USB drive. The HIV self-test pack will include an HIV self-test cartridge, a set of instructions, a bottle of test fluid, a disposal bag, and a Care Card with a list of contacts in case you have questions or concerns about the test or your result. The test is a finger prick blood test. After you have done the test, you will be able to read the result in 15 minutes.

There is currently only one test approved for sale in Australia, the Atomo HIV Self-Test. It is important to only buy devices approved for sale, so you can be sure the result is accurate and that the device is safe to use.

All reactive rapid tests need to be confirmed with traditional HIV tests

How accurate is the test?

The HIV self-test has been shown in laboratory testing to correctly identify 99.6% of HIV negative and HIV positive samples. Like other HIV tests, the self-test may not detect HIV that is recently acquired (within the last 3 months). If you think you have been exposed to HIV in the last three months, it is important to speak to a doctor or visit a sexual health clinic. If the potential exposure occurred within the last 72 hours, you may be eligible for post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which can prevent HIV if it is taken within 72 hours but ideally as soon as possible after the potential exposure has occurred.

What happens if I get a reactive result?

Getting a reactive result does not necessarily mean you have HIV. If you have received a reactive result on the self-test, it will still need to be confirmed with further testing by a doctor. You can refer to the Care Card that comes with the test for more information about accessing follow-up testing.

Where to get a self-test kit

You can contact your local HIV/AIDS organisation, if you live in Victoria, contact Thorne Harbour Health on (03) 9865 6700, or you can purchase them here