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Repeat HIV testing: high-risk behaviour or risk reduction strategy?

Leaity, Samanthaa; Sherr, Lorraineb; Wells, Heathera; Evans, Amandaa; Miller, Rivaa; Johnson, Margareta; Elford, Jonathanb

Epidemiology & Social

Objective: To examine the characteristics of repeat and first-time HIV testers and consider their implications for HIV test counselling.

Methods: An anonymous questionnaire was completed by nearly 1500 people seeking an HIV test between September 1997 and July 1998 at a same-day HIV testing clinic in London, United Kingdom. Repeat testers were those people who had previously tested HIV negative and were returning for another test. Information was collected on self-reported unprotected penetrative sex (UPS) in the previous 3 months and reasons for seeking the present test.

Results: Overall, 50.6% (721/1446) of all clinic attenders were repeat testers: gay men 71.7% (337/470), heterosexual men 42.1% (208/494) and heterosexual women 38.6% (186/482). No significant differences were found between repeat and first time testers in the frequency of UPS (P  0.06). However, gay men (but not heterosexual men and women) reporting three or more previous HIV tests were significantly more likely to report higher-risk UPS (i.e. with a partner whose HIV status was either positive or unknown) (42.2%) than those who had had one–two or no previous tests (25.3 and 25.4%, respectively;P  = 0.002). Over half the heterosexual men and women, and one third of gay men said they were seeking the current HIV test in preparation for a new relationship; these proportions did not differ significantly between repeat and first-time testers (P  > 0.1).

Conclusion: In this London HIV testing clinic, no significant differences were found in the frequency of UPS between repeat and first-time testers with the exception of gay men with a history of three or more previous HIV tests, who reported elevated levels of high-risk sexual behaviour. For many people, repeat HIV testing has become part of a risk reduction strategy to establish seroconcordance with a regular partner. HIV test counselling provides the opportunity both to address high-risk behaviour and to reinforce personal risk-reduction strategies

From the aRoyal Free Hampstead NHS Trust Hospital and the bDepartment of Primary Care and Population Sciences and Royal Free Centre for HIV Medicine, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College London, UK.

Sponsorship: This work was supported by funding from Camden & Islington Health Authority.

Requests for reprints to: Dr J. Elford, Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College London, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK.

Received: 14 July 1999;

revised: 10 December 1999; accepted: 22 December 1999.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.