HIV testing : Swiss AIDS Federation

HIV testing

After a risk situation or at the start of a new relationship, having an HIV test is a good option as it provides clarity and safety. The regional AIDS Advisory Service, GPs, hospitals or Checkpoints in your area offer tests.

What is a risk situation?

  • Unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse, especially in a region with a high number of infected people (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa, Estern Europe, Southeast Asia)
  • A condom mishap: ripping, slipping off or inappropriate use, poor quality or poorly stored condoms.
  • Needle sharing by intravenous drug users.

I had unprotected sex. Should I get myself tested?

This depends on the risk situation, therefore it is important that you clarify the risk.Go to a regional AIDS centre near you or visit a Checkpoint for more advice.

I am slightly afraid of having the test. What should I do?

Fear is never a good advisor. Only by having the test and getting the result will you get an answer. Visit a Counselling centres in your area, they will stand by you and give you advice. If you prefer, you can telephone them for more information.

Should I get advice or simply just get myself tested?

After being in a risk situation, the most important thing is to know from the test whether there is an infection or not. On the other hand, receiving counselling has the advantage that your particular situation will be discussed in detail. So, if the result is positive, the person concerned can be told about the medical, social and legal situation. This offer of counselling is known as Voluntary Counselling and Testing or VCT.

Where can I be tested anonymously?

You can be tested in hospitals, at Checkpoints or at regional AIDS centre in your area, without having to give your name. But you must then pay for the test yourself. Test Centers

How much is an HIV test?

The prices for an HIV rapid test vary (between 45 and 60 francs). If you take the test anonymously, you should be prepared to pay for it yourself. If the test is carried out on the instructions of a doctor or in a hospital, your health insurance company will cover the costs.

When is the test result reliable?

An HIV-negative result can reliably rule out infection with HIV six weeks after a risk situation. This is how long it takes for the immune system to build up antibodies against HIV.

An HIV-positive test result can detect the presence of HIV in the blood at an earlier stage, but it is important that the first HIV-positive result is confirmed by a second HIV test.

What is the earliest point that I can do an HIV test?

It always makes sense to do a test if you have been in a clear risk situation. This is possible at the earliest two weeks after that risk situation, because some people will already have built up antibodies against HIV by then. If this result is positive, a second test to confirm it is done immediately.

However, a negative test result cannot reliably rule out an HIV infection until six weeks after a risk situation. This is because people build up antibodies at different rates after becoming infected, and this can take up to six weeks in borderline cases. This means that after a first test with a nagative result, a confirmotion test is required at least six weeks after the risk situation.

Must I use protection for six weeks until I get a reliable negative test result?

Yes. The Safer Sex Rules protect your partner (male or female) from possible HIV transmission during this time.

Will anyone be notified if I'm HIV positive?

No. This information is subject to medical confidentiality. You alone decide who you want to tell about your HIV infection. For statistical purposes, however, a report must be submitted anonymously to the Federal Office of Public Health.

Can I be tested for HIV without my consent?

No. An HIV test can only be carried out with your voluntary consent.

Test Centers

HIV test procedure

Three types of HIV test are offered in Switzerland: the rapid test, the laboratory test, the home (self) test.

The rapid HIV test is offered in testing centres and quickly delivers a reliable result. This has the advantage that, if the result is positive, the person concerned can immediately receive individual counselling.

The result of a laboratory test takes rather longer – not because the test itself is slower, but because of the administrative processes involved.

Home testing (also known as self testing) has been permitted in Switzerland since 2018, meaning that you can test yourself in private. This type of test makes sense if the possible exposure to HIV occurred more than three months in the past.

The Swiss AIDS Federation recommends that anyone who has been at risk and who wants to know whether or not they have been infected with HIV be tested at a testing centre or doctor’s surgery.

What does the test involve?

Combination tests in the form of rapid tests are used nowadays in Switzerland. These tests detect both antibodies and components of the virus in the blood. As the test is fast, it is used at testing centres and to some extent by doctors as part of a counselling session. Results are available in around twenty minutes.

How soon can I have a test after exposure?

An HIV combination test can provide initial results at the earliest two weeks after possible exposure. A confirmed positive HIV test result is deemed to be reliable. However, only a test conducted six weeks after possible exposure can safely rule out an HIV infection, because some people take up to six weeks to form antibodies against HIV. Therefore, even if the first HIV test result is negative, the test must be repeated six weeks or more after exposure. A Checkpoint or regional AIDS centre can give you advice.

Home tests detect antibodies only, and show results at the earliest three months after possible exposure. These tests are available in pharmacies and drugstores.

What is the difference between a rapid test and a laboratory test?

The rapid HIV test gives a result within twenty minutes. By contrast, it takes around three days before you get the results of a laboratory test. The test itself is no slower, but the blood sample has to be sent off to a laboratory and the result subsequently returned.

Can I do an HIV test at home?

Yes. A good home test will satisfy the following requirements:

  • The patient information leaflet that comes with every home HIV test provides information on HIV/AIDS that is applicable to Switzerland. The leaflet is printed in Switzerland's four national languages and in English.
  • The quality of home HIV tests is assured by independent laboratories.
  • Anyone whose test is positive will know where they can turn for advice, irrespective of their age, sex, sexual orientation, nationality or immigration status.

Home tests can also be bought over the internet, but be very careful of cheap products and tests which are not subject to quality controls!

Home HIV test

A home HIV test (also known as self test) is an HIV test that anyone can carry out themselves. The home testing kits sold in Switzerland are easy to use and deliver a reliable result.

There are two points to remember when using a home HIV test:

  1. If the test shows a positive result, it is essential to have it confirmed by a further test at a testing centre or doctor's surgery.
  2. A home HIV test can only reliably detect an HIV infection if it occurred at least three months before the test. Anyone wishing to check their status after possible exposure within the past three months should go to a testing centre or a doctor.

Which home HIV test should I use?

It is essential that the testing kit bears the European CE quality mark. To earn it, the manufacturer must prove that the test is reliable and easy to use.

Where can I buy a home HIV test?

Home tests bearing the CE mark are available from pharmacies and drugstores.

They can also be bought on the internet, but be careful here, because providers may also supply tests which are not CE-certified. There are also fake tests in circulation. The Swiss AIDS Federation therefore recommends buying the test at a pharmacy or drugstore.

How does a home HIV test work?

All CE-certified home HIV tests are blood tests. You prick your finger with a very fine needle and take a drop of blood that is then analysed in the container that is supplied.

Various tests are available, and they are all very easy to use.

Does pricking your finger hurt?

Not really – very little at most. All of the instructions show where you should take the blood from, i.e. the side of the finger. The skin there has fewer nerve endings, so you feel it less.

What does a home HIV test actually test?

All home HIV tests look for antibodies. These are proteins that the body forms when it is infected with HIV. In other words, the test does not react to HIV directly, but to the body's response to HIV. Since it takes time for the immune system to respond following infection, a home test can only safely rule out HIV if it is done at the earliest three months after possible infection.

What doesn’t it test?

The home HIV test can only detect infection with HIV. It tells you nothing about other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea or syphilis.

How reliable is the result?

You can rely on the result from a test carrying the CE mark.

If the test result is positive, go immediately to an advice centre.

Would I know if anything had gone wrong?

Yes. Like a home pregnancy test, all tests have a control line which shows whether or not a sample is valid.

What does a negative test result mean?

A negative test result means that you are not infected with HIV. Please note, however, that if you have become infected over the previous three months it may be too soon for the test to detect HIV in your blood.

What does a positive test result mean?

In this case you should seek medical attention as soon as you can. It will be paid for by your health insurance. HIV cannot be cured, but can be treated with drugs in such a way that you will remain healthy and have a similar life expectancy as those who do not have HIV.

How do I dispose of a home HIV test?

You can dispose of a home test with your regular household rubbish. Simply put everything back in the packaging, and throw it in the bin.

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