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Could we crush HIV and STIs if we all got tested right now?

"... if we all got tested right now, we could whack a whopper of a dent in new HIV and STI transmissions here in Australia."

Going for a sexual health test might not be at the forefront of our minds right now - We’re in the middle of a pandemic and are still strongly encouraged to avoid hooking up for the time being.

But even as COVID-19 continues turning our world topsy-turvy, a unique opportunity emerges: if we all got tested right now, we could whack a whopper of a dent in new HIV and STI transmissions here in Australia.

Ready to do your bit and get tested? Nice work — head on over to our interactive map to find and book in with a sexual health testing service near you.

An opportunity?

So what is it about our current circumstances that positions us to break the chain of sexually transmitted infections? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, there aren’t nearly as many hook-ups happening up at present. Perhaps fewer than ever due to lockdown, even since the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. Fewer hook-ups means fewer chances for HIV and STIs to spread from one person to another, then to another, and on to another, and so on.

Then there’s also the fact it’s been over six weeks since physical distancing measures were introduced. For those who haven’t had any action with casual partners, that’s enough time to ride out the window period for most of the common things we test for.

What’s a window period, you say? It’s the amount of time it takes between coming in to contact with an STI and it showing up on a test. The length of the window period varies between different STIs.

Although HIV and syphilis can sometimes take longer than six weeks to show up in a test, the majority of cases along with chlamydia and gonorrhea infections will be ready to detect, well… right about now.

All of this means that if we take advantage of this never before seen opportunity to test, treat and crush the circulation of HIV and STIs, it could be a game-changer for when we’re all OK to blow off a little steam… and each other. Now wouldn’t that be a welcome silver lining?

How can I get tested?

It’s pretty straightforward. Get in touch with your doctor, sexual health centre or HIV specialist and ask for a comprehensive sexual health check-up — one that involves blood tests for HIV and syphilis along with a urine sample plus anal and throat swabs to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Don’t know where to get tested? That’s OK — we’ve taken the hard work out of finding services for you. Check out our interactive map to find sexual health services nearby. Although any doctor can help you get tested, not all might be familiar with sexual health medicine or healthcare needs for LGBTI folks.

Even in a pandemic sexual health services are still operating across the country, but contact them before you visit as there may be some changes. Some services might not offer walk-ins, though telehealth and booked appointments may be available. All services are dedicated to ensuring the health and wellbeing of staff and visitors, so be sure to call in advance and follow any safety recommendations.

Can I test from home instead?

For HIV, you sure can! Did you know that HIV self testing kits have been available in Australia since November 2018?

These kits give you a result in just 15 minutes from the privacy of your own home. You can purchase one online for $25 plus postage and handling. Check out HIV self testing kits now in Australia — discreet results in 15 minutes for more info and where you can get your hands on one.

Eligible residents of New South Wales can test at home for free with a dried blood spot (DBS) test. You don’t need to go to a clinic or see a doctor to do one. You’ll get your results in about a week.

What about testing for STIs at home?

Although some websites may have STI self testing kits for sale, these are not currently approved for use by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration). For reliable STI testing it’s best to book an appointment with a doctor or sexual health centre, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

Eligible residents of Queensland can request a free test for chlamydia and gonorrhea online through the 13 HEALTH webtest program.

Eligible residents of rural Victoria can request a free test for chlamydia and gonorrhea online through the TESTme service.

But I don’t have any symptoms

If everyone always had symptoms to tell they’d picked something up, we’d have a much better chance to treat HIV and STIs early, removing them from circulation more quickly. The inconvenient truth is, not everyone experiences symptoms. So you could be living with HIV or have an STI without realising it.

Not having symptoms can be a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, no symptoms means no discomfort — and who doesn’t want a comfortable life? On the other hand, not having any noticeable symptoms doesn’t give any early warnings to go and seek treatment.

Of course, some might say ignorance is bliss. But ignorance can be brutal to anyone’s long term health, as well as impacting the people we’re intimate with. The real secret to a comfortable life involves the confidence of knowing your status and being empowered to choose to take control of your own health.

Remember, common bacterial STIs are straightforward to treat. And although there’s no cure for HIV, it’s now a manageable condition with highly effective treatments that can eliminate the possibility of onward sexual transmission. Check out HIV 101: 2018 edition for more info.

Doing it regularly

Going for regular and comprehensive sexual health tests is a key component of all good sexual health strategies — whether you rely on condoms, PrEP, an undetectable viral load or PEP in an emergency.

All of these are great options for preventing HIV, but none of them offer 100 per cent protection against STIs — even the mighty condom doesn’t prevent all STIs all of the time, but using one still offers the best protection against most STIs. You can maximise your protection against HIV as well as STIs by choosing and combining options that keep condoms in the mix.

To discover more about what’s in it for you to test for HIV and STIs, check out Eight reasons why you should get an STI test, even if you don’t think you need one.

This article has been republished with permission from Emen8.org.au - Australia’s biggest and boldest online sexual health and wellbeing initiative for gay men, bisexual men and men who have sex with men.