Testing for HIV and STIs during COVID-19

Considering everything happening now due to COVID-19, you’d be forgiven if any number of your social, work and personal appointments had been either pushed back or completely cancelled. Sad face. But while many of our plans may have been disrupted, one thing that can and should continue is keeping on top of your sexual health, such as your HIV and STI testing routine.

Calendar cleared? Why not get tested!

Running out of things to do while in iso? Now could be the perfect time to get tested for HIV and STIs. Even if you haven’t had a lot of action since the start of social distancing and the temporary hiatus on casual hook-ups, it could be a great time to test. If you haven’t tested since Mardi Gras, or in the last 3 months, now is definitely a good time to do so. It could even help give a little structure to what might seem like a chaotic time.

And consider this: if all guys who are sexually active got tested and knew their status now, we may see an overall decline in HIV and STI infections. It could be a good news story out of what has largely been not so good news, and we sure could do with more of that right now.

HIV and STI testing Is still available during COVID-19

Contrary to what you might think, HIV and STI testing is still available across the state. However, there may be some changes to some testing sites’ operations and opening hours as the healthcare system responds to the coronavirus epidemic. Whichever service you use, it’s a good idea to call ahead as there may be disruptions.

At the moment in NSW, if you want to get a HIV and STI screen and are currently displaying no symptoms of an infection (asymptomatic) there are several options at your disposal.

Your local Doctor or General Practitioner

Many local doctors and general practitioners (GPs) are still offering their usual services, which can include a general HIV and STI screen. If you haven’t tested with your doctor before, this could be an opportunity to build a relationship with them too.

Wherever possible, many GPs are moving to a telehealth model, which means you may not even have to attend a doctor’s clinical space, but instead will just have to visit pathology services to take any samples required for your screen. Look online or call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 for a practice near you.

you[TEST] – a new service to help you test for HIV at home

you[TEST] is a new HIV testing service that’s convenient, free and can be done from the comfort of your home. Connect with a trained peer via virtual appointment who will walk you through the testing options, before getting sent one of two easy-to-use self-collection kits for you to do the test yourself. Learn more and book an appointment here.

a[TEST] Oxford Street (Sydney)

While there has been a temporary reduction in the overall number of sexual health services, the a[TEST] Oxford Street site in Darlinghurst, Sydney remains open for business. a[TEST] is a fast, free and confidential rapid HIV and STI testing service for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, regardless of HIV status. If this is suitable, book an appointment today.

Sydney Sexual Health Centre (Sydney)

Sydney Sexual Health Centre in the Sydney CBD remains open, though if you wish to attend you will need to call ahead and book a test. You can find more information about their service on their website or call to book a test at (02) 9382 7440.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of an STI

If you have symptoms of an STI or have been informed that one of your previous partners has recently tested positive, in many cases, existing sexual health clinics will still be able to see you and provide you with treatment. In the instance they aren’t available they will be able to refer you to the next best option or instead you could call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 and they will also be able to recommend a site where you can access treatment and testing near you.

Be considerate of your service

The healthcare system is under some pressure at the moment, so be prepared and patient if you are asked to wait or delay your appointment. Depending on where you are, it may be a bit more difficult than usual to book an appointment right now. Healthcare staff need our support and compassion – let’s show them some love.

You may be asked additional screening questions when you call to book too, such as how well you’re feeling or if you’ve been practising physical distancing. This information is to protect the staff and anyone else who may be visiting the service.

Finally, if you’ve been overseas, you would still need to adhere to the 14-day self-isolation order before attending your appointment.

I have concerns about COVID-19, should I still go to get tested?

It’s understandable if the idea of heading to a medical site might have you feeling a little anxious about whether you might be exposed to COVID-19. However, many places – and in particular, places that practise healthcare – have put mechanisms in place to ensure physical distancing and hygiene are maintained.

Much like attending the shops to pick up groceries these days, being generally aware of hygiene and your surroundings can reduce your risk and help keep you safe. You can always ask the service site of anything specific you may need to know prior to the appointment.

To find a testing site is near you or to discuss your testing options further, call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 weekdays between 9am and 5:30pm.