Testing for HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections

It's important to know if you have HIV or some other sexually transmitted infection. When you know about it you can get treatment.

To live with an untreated sexually transmitted infection makes it easier for other sexually transmitted infections to enter the boby. That makes it extra important to get tested and get treatment if you have an infection.

The testing is done in different ways depending on who you are, how you have had sex and the local routines where you get tested. To test for infections that are subject to the communicable diseases act should be free everywhere in Sweden.

That a test is positive means that you have the infection you were tested for. A negative test result means that you don’t have the infection.

In some cases you can be summoned to testing according to the communicable diseases act. You might have had sex with someone who has an infection that is subject to the communicable diseases act or if there’s another reason to believe that you might be infected.

How often should I get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

General advise about how often you should get tested and for what is difficult to give. Because of that you should take advise about how often you should get tested with a grain of salt, reflect and yourself determine what best suits you. If you have a sex life with many different contacts and don’t always practice safer sex it’s good to get tested regularly.

For you who have sex with men (and/or people with a penis) it can be good to get tested once a year or before you have sex with a new partner. If you have many different partners and don’t always use protection you should get tested every 3 to 6 months. Make sure that you get tested for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis when you go.

If you are a woman (and/or a person with a vagina) it’s probably not as relevant to get tested for HIV that often, but it can still be good to get tested for other infections, especially chlamydia, now and then.

Except for HIV there are more sexually transmitted infections that you should get tested for now and then. Chlamydia is for example a very common sexually transmitted infection that oftentimes doesn’t give any symptoms and is easily transmittable even if you’re wearing a condom. You should get tested as soon as possible if you suspect you might have HIV or some other sexually transmitted infection.

Where can I get tested for sexually transmitted infections?

Younger people can get tested at youth clinics. The upper age-limit at youth clinics varies but is usually around 23 or 25. You find all youth clinics at www.umo.se.

In larger cities there’s usually an STI clinic, SESAM clinic or venereal clinic where they’re specialized in testing. In  Stockholm and Göteborg there are specialist clinics for men who have sex with men. In Stockholm there’s also a gynecological clinic for women who have sex with women and trans people.

More and more county councils offer the opportunity to order a home test for chlamydia. These can also be bought at Apoteket.

Your closest testing facility can be found at: www.aidsmap.com/euhivtest.

Testing for HIV

There are two main types of HIV tests; a traditional lab test and a rapid test. A traditional HIV test can give a conclusive result six weeks after the suspected transmission and a rapid test can give a result after eight weeks. But you can of course get tested earlier and you can often get a reliable result with a lab test even after two weeks after the suspected transmission.

Some clinics will turn away people who want to take an HIV test saying that it isn’t needed or that it will be too expensive for them. In these cases they are violating the National Board of Health and Welfare’s guidelines that HIV testing should be offered generously, and are making an error. Moreover they get compensation for the HIV tests that are made from the disease control unit in their county council, so it doesn’t cost them any money.

Traditional test

The most common type of HIV-test is taken as a blood sample from the bend of the arm at a healthcare clinic or other clinic within the healthcare system. The blood is then sent for analysis and you usually get the results after a couple of days. An advantage when getting tested within the healthcare system is that you can get in contact with a nurse or a counsellor to talk to if you want to. If you get a positive test result you are automatically referred to an HIV doctor whom you’ll visit regularly for follow-up and treatment.

Rapid test

The rapid test is relatively new in Sweden and isn’t available at that many places in the general healthcare yet. A rapid test is made by pricking the finger and testing a few drops of blood. You usually get the answer within 15 minutes. When you do a rapid test within the healthcare system you are automatically referred to an HIV doctor if you test positive, just like you would with a traditional test.

You can also get a rapid test at RFSL, or in one of the clinics outside of the healthcare system that are located in the larger cities. If you get a positive rapid test at RFSL you will get help to get in contact with healthcare, but if you test positive abroad or in another way you yourself have to contact an infection clinic to access an HIV doctor. At RFSL you can be anonymous, regardless of test result.

If you test positive at a rapid test you usually take a second test just to make sure, and then with the traditional method.

Test for other sexually transmitted infections 

Different types of tests and testing methods are used for different infections. Some are “tested” just by a doctor looking at you and hearing about your symptoms. Other sexually transmitted infections are tested through a urine sample. You get to pee in a cup or a test tube. There are also tests where a doctor or a nurse takes a sample with a cotton swab-like stick or a small brush from the throat, vagina, cervix, urethra and/or the rectum depending on where your symptoms are or how you’ve had sex. There are also tests that are taken through a blood sample from the bend of the arm or the fingertip.

Important for you who want to get tested is knowing that chlamydia and gonorrhea can be located in the anus or the throat, if you’ve had anal intercourse with a penis, and a cotton swab must be made from these places on the body. All clinics don’t do that, or have the knowledge about it, and you yourself must ask for these types of tests.

If you take a blood sample to test for HIV you can ask the staff to test for syphilis at the same time. If you’re a man having sex with other men this is recommended.

Most test results you have to wait for. They first have to be sent to a laboratory for analysis but you’ll usually get the results within a couple of weeks. In some cases you only get the result if it’s positive. You can however always contact the clinic where you got tested and ask for the results.

Do you often forget to get tested?

With RFSL’s testing reminder you get a text message when it’s time to go and get tested. The service is free and anonymous and is aimed at you who are a man and have sex with other men and at you who are a trans person.

You can choose to get a reminder every third, sixth or twelfth month. Text THREE, SIX or TWELWE to 71111 to start the service.