What do I do if I think I've been exposed to HIV?  

You may be at risk of contracting HIV if a condom breaks, if you have sex without a condom with a partner whose HIV status you do not know, or if you are sharing injecting equipment. If you are concerned you may have been exposed to HIV, you can talk to a doctor or hospital for an assessment. Your doctor may recommend post-exposure prophylaxis.

If you are unsure about whether or not to see a doctor, check your risk online.  

To arrange a confidential HIV test in Melbourne contact the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic on (03) 9347 0244 or toll free on 1800 032 017 or contact the Alfred Hospital in Prahran on (03) 9076 2000.

How much does the test cost?

From 1 November 2005, diagnostic testing for HIV in Australia became available on the Medical Benefits Schedule, meaning your doctor can order an HIV test free of charge.

How does the test work? 

Having an HIV test tells you whether or not you are infected with HIV. The human body produces antibodies to fight the virus and the initial screening test for HIV looks for these antibodies, not the virus itself. The HIV antibody test is a simple blood test performed on a small sample of your blood. The sample can be taken by your doctor, or in a community clinic or health centre. The blood must be sent to a laboratory for testing and the law protects the confidentiality of your test.

Test results are available within seven days. If the test detects no HIV antibodies, the person is said to be HIV-negative. However the body can take up to three months to produce antibodies after infection occurs, so it may be necessary to test again, depending on how recently potential exposure took place. If the test does detect the antibodies, the person is said to be HIV-positive.

In Victoria, people who request an HIV test must by law receive pre- and post-test counselling. This can only be delivered by a doctor, or a person who has successfully completed an approved training course. Information and counselling should take place to ensure the individual understands what it means to get tested. A test result should only be given to individuals during post-test counselling. 

Can 'straight' people get HIV?  

The majority of people living with HIV worldwide are heterosexual and HIV disproportionately affects women on a global scale. Unprotected sex, vaginal or anal, puts both partners at risk, but women are biologically more susceptible to HIV infection than men.

Am I safe because I am in a monogamous relationship or married?  

Not necessarily. You or your partner may have been infected before your relationship began. If you are both HIV-negative, if your partner has sex outside your relationship you can still be at risk of contracting HIV. 

Isn't it obvious when someone is HIV-positive?  

One of the basic truths about HIV is that gender, age, race and economic status do not matter when it comes to vulnerability to HIV. Anyone can become infected. HIV can live in the body for years without causing obvious damage, although the virus is constantly replicating. Many people with HIV continue to look and feel well, and many HIV-positive people are unaware of their status. They may feel healthy and not think they are putting themselves or anyone else at risk.   

Who should get tested?

Getting tested is recommended if any of the following apply:

  • You are sexually active, particularly with two or more sexual partners in the last 12 months
  • You had a possible exposure to HIV either through vaginal or anal intercourse without the use of a condom, or if the condom breaks
  • You have shared/reused needles or syringes to inject drugs (including steroids), or for body piercing, tattooing, or any other reason
  • You are uncertain about your sexual partner's risk behaviors or your sexual partner has tested positive for HIV or sexually transmitted infections
  • You are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant
  • You have had certain illnesses including TB (tuberculosis), or a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or herpes
  • You have any reason to be uncertain about your HIV status - if you need to ask, you need to know!

If you and your partner have decided to have unprotected sexual activity it is important you are both tested and both disclose your HIV status to each other prior to having unprotected sex. It is important that you are both tested for sexually transmitted infections as well.

Why should I get tested if there is no cure for HIV?  

Deciding whether or not to be tested is up to each individual and the decision should be made with informed consent. There is no cure for HIV but there are drugs that can slow down the virus and protect your immune system, as well as reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. These drugs can prevent the onset of AIDS defining illnesses. The earlier you are diagnosed the more treatment options are available, and the sooner you can take the steps to reduce the impact of the virus on your health. If you do not know your status you cannot get the health care and treatment you may need to stay well and live a long, healthy life. You are also more likely to pass HIV to others without knowing it. 

Are lesbians at risk of contracting HIV?  

Women who only have sex with women are at much lower risk of contracting HIV. Female-to-female transmission of HIV is an extremely rare occurrence however, in any sexual encounter, transmission is possible when there is unprotected oral or vaginal contact with vaginal fluid, blood or menstrual blood of a woman infected with HIV. Sharing insertive sex toys is discouraged when your partner's status is unknown. 

Women who identify as lesbians but occasionally have sex with men are at higher risk, as are injecting drug users.   

If I test HIV negative, does that mean my partner is HIV negative as well?  

No. Your HIV test result reveals only your HIV status. Your negative test result does not indicate whether or not your partner has HIV. HIV is not necessarily transmitted every time someone is exposed. Therefore, your HIV test results will not tell you if your partner is infected. 

Testing is not a replacement for protecting yourself from HIV infection. If your behaviours or your partner's behaviours are putting you at risk for exposure to HIV, it is important to reduce your risk. Practice safe sex during every sexual encounter by using a latex condom to help protect both you and your partner from HIV and other STIs. When used correctly and consistently, condoms are the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission during a sexual encounter. If either partner is allergic to latex, male and female plastic (polyurethane) condoms are available.

I've received my test results and they're positive. How did I get it?  

The majority of women are infected in the same way - by trusting a partner. Many of our members had unprotected sex with boyfriends or husbands, not knowing that their partner was HIV-positive. Some members were infected by sharing needles, and others from sexual assault. People in relationships may decide to stop using condoms without knowing if the other is infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. That's why we recommend that both partners get tested for HIV and other STIs before engaging in unprotected sex.

The bottom line, however, is that no women needs to answer the question "How did you get it?" At Positive Women we believe the answer is irrelevant because all women deserve equal treatment regardless of how they became infected.