The first and only regulator-approved HIV self testing kit is now available for use in Australia. Anyone can test for HIV in private with results in just 15 minutes. Here’s what you need to know.
In the past few years there have been big changes in what we understand about HIV, how we can prevent it and the tools we have to test for it. From highly effective biomedical HIV prevention options such as PrEP to the remarkable research that demonstrates people living with HIV cannot sexually transmit the virus when using treatment to maintain an undetectable viral load.
Now, the availability of TGA approved HIV self testing kits paves the way for greater access to HIV testing options for everyone. The kits can be used in private for greater levels of discretion, removing concerns some people may have about visiting a sexual health centre, seeing their doctor or going to a peer-based rapid HIV testing service.
How can I get an HIV self testing kit?
Although some websites may offer HIV self testing kits for sale in Australia, the only one approved for use by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) is the Atomo HIV Self Test.
Kits are available to buy online from the Atomo HIV Self Test website or from selected sexual health/HIV organisations listed in the Atomo website’s FAQ section.
You can purchase a kit for $25 in person, or online for the same amount plus postage and handling. A condition of sale both online and at outlets is to watch the short instructional video that provides detailed information on how to use the HIV self test kit correctly.
“You can purchase a kit for $25 in person, or online for the same amount plus postage and handling.”
Kits purchased online are delivered through the Australia Post Express Post service, arriving in a standard Express Post satchel with no disclosure of content. The device inside is wrapped in bubble wrap and there’s no indication of the company name. If you’re concerned about privacy at your postal address, Australia Post offer a parcel locker service accessible 24 hours a day.
What does HIV self testing involve?
The HIV self testing kit is a small cartridge containing a test strip which reacts to give a test result. The kit only needs a small amount of blood and provides a result in just 15 minutes. Everything you need to perform the test and get a result is included.
Once you have one of these kits using it is straightforward. The video below provides an overview and there’s a more detailed instructional video at the manufacturer’s website. Instructions for use are available in English, Chinese, Spanish and Vietnamese.
HIV self test kits are for single use only, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with the whole process before you begin.
The world’s first integrated HIV Self Test
About the results
While HIV self testing kits have high levels of accuracy, there are a still few things to keep in mind.
All forms of HIV testing come with a window period — this is the time between getting HIV and it showing up on a test. HIV self testing kits have a 12 week (3 month) window period. This means if you’ve come in to contact with HIV during the three months before taking the test, it might not show up in the results yet. A negative test result can be interpreted as being HIV negative (not having HIV) as of three months ago.
As this is a ‘screening test’ only, HIV self testing kits indicate a possible HIV positive result but cannot confirm an HIV diagnosis — a reactive test result does not necessarily mean you have HIV. Although uncommon, HIV self testing kits can give false-positive results in some circumstances. If your test indicates a positive result, check in with a doctor for a blood test.
“…HIV self testing kits indicate a possible HIV positive result but cannot confirm an HIV diagnosis — a reactive test result does not necessarily mean you have HIV.”
Remember, HIV is a manageable condition with highly effective treatments available to keep people healthy and prevent onward transmission of the virus. An early HIV diagnosis means you can choose to start treatment quickly. The sooner you start HIV treatment, the better your health outcomes are in the long term. Nowadays, people living with HIV can live long and healthy lives.
A list of HIV support services for all states and territories along with 24 hour support phone lines are available at the Atomo HIV Self Test website. You can also get in touch with any of the HIV organisations or community support groups in our partner network across Australia.
To understand more about HIV, including information on transmission (how you get HIV), testing, prevention and support, check out HIV 101: 2018 edition.
Are there other ways I can test for HIV?
There are various other HIV testing options available to you. You can find HIV testing services, including rapid and peer-based testing, nearby and across Australia using our interactive map.
Cost, convenience and length of window period may vary between different testing options. The important thing to know is that using any method to test frequently for HIV is better than not testing frequently or even at all. In Australia, all HIV test results are private between you and your doctor — doctors are legally required to notify health authorities of an HIV positive diagnosis, but in a way that does not personally identify individuals.
For all guys (cis and trans) who have sex with other guys, it’s recommended to test at least once every three months. Guys who aren’t sexually active or are in monogamous relationships can test less frequently, but at least once a year.
“Regular testing for HIV is an important part of looking after your sexual health and wellbeing, but it’s important to test for other STIs too.”
Any doctor or sexual health centre can help you get an HIV test, though not all doctors might be familiar with HIV or sexual health. A healthcare professional will take a blood sample for laboratory testing — this typically has a window period of six weeks, so a negative result means you can be confident of being HIV negative as of six weeks ago. You can also get STI testing done in the same visit. Whether you do or don’t have access to Medicare, you might still have to pay to see a doctor. Some sexual health centres provide free or low-cost services to people with or without access to Medicare.
Rapid HIV testing is available in some cities with results in under 20 minutes while you wait. Rapid testing is often free and sometimes peer-based, meaning the tests are facilitated by specially trained members of the LGBTI community. Getting a rapid test involves a small finger prick similar to using the HIV self testing kits. Discover more in A quick prick does the trick – all about rapid HIV testing.
Eligible people in New South Wales can access dried blood spot (DBS) testing. This test works by putting a few drops of blood from your finger on a test card, leaving it to dry, then returning the card in the post for laboratory testing. Results are given based on your choice of communication method in about a week.
How can I test for other STIs?
Regular testing for HIV is an important part of looking after your sexual health and wellbeing, but it’s important to test for other STIs too. An HIV test can only detect HIV and doesn’t test for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea or hepatitis C.
Discover more about STI testing in Eight reasons why you should get an STI test, even if you don’t think you need one and use our interactive map to locate HIV and STI testing services near you.