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 > or = 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.