HIV and Travel
Every year, Australians acquire HIV from having sex while travelling overseas.
For example, last year (2017) in NSW, there were 119 cases of HIV where the person most likely got the infection overseas. These cases include a broad range of people – men, women, straight, gay, Australian-born and overseas-born.
Experienced travelers may be at greater risk
Researchers say those contracting HIV overseas were usually older, more experienced travellers, who did not consider themselves at risk. In a study interviewing 14 men who got HIV overseas, all of them had travelled many times previously to the country (mostly commonly in Asia).
Alcohol use, loneliness and other factors related to travel can increase HIV risk.
There are many aspects of travel that can increase risk-taking. These include a sense of freedom, increased alcohol and/or drug use, loneliness, being away from your partner and/or family and peer pressure. While risk-taking isn’t a bad thing – for example, it can be what gives you the courage to approach a stranger in a bar- there may be unintended consequences.
Recent break-ups may also increase risk
Over the years, we’ve talked to many clients who got HIV overseas after a recent divorce or relationship break-up. They told us that before the break-up, they had not thought about safe sex or condom use for a very long time and this may have contributed to them getting HIV.
There are things you can do to reduce the chance of getting HIV when travelling.
- Pack condoms. Quality of and access to condoms varies from country to country. Bringing your own means you have high quality condoms when you need them.
- Find out how common HIV is in the country you are visiting. Most of South-East Asia and Africa have higher rates of HIV than Australia, including among heterosexuals.
- Getting a tattoo or piercing? Australia has excellent blood safety standards and regulation, but not every other country does. Make sure you do your research on the parlour and you see new sterile needles taken from the packaging.
- If you plan to have sex without a condom, talk to your GP about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP is a once-a-day pill that prevents HIV.
There are different options for HIV tests
Ask your GP for a sexual health screen when you return. If you have HIV or another sexually transmitted infection, it’s better to know and start treatment as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your GP, visit your local sexual health clinic or read about other testing options.
You can order a Dried Blood Spot (DBS) test to do at home
If you are living with HIV, travelling may require some extra preparation and planning.
Smart Traveller, Australian Government’s official travel website
Play Safe, information for young people on sexually transmitted infections
Sexual Health Infolink, information and free call phone line for sexual health information
Fit for Travel – more tips on sexually transmitted infections and travel (UK website)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler’s Health page (USA website)