HIV and travelling

In many travel destinations favoured by the Finns, the HIV situation is far more serious than in Finland, which increases the risk of getting an infection abroad. The most prominent reason for the spread of HIV and other STIs is unprotected sex.

Around half of the Finns’ HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea infections are received through unprotected sex during a trip abroad.

While many STIs are serious diseases already on their own, the risk of catching an HIV infection can be tenfold if a person has another untreated STI, even if it does not show any symptoms. In addition to traffic and alcohol, the most prominent risks while travelling are related to sex. When alcohol or other substances are consumed, one’s evaluation ability is lowered, which increases risk-taking.

HIV and travelling – statistics

During 2007–2011, around half of Finn’s HIV infections (where the country of contagion was known) were caught abroad. The largest proportion of infections caught abroad was due to men’s hetero sex activities. Two thirds of these were related to travelling or spending time abroad. Most of these infections were caught in Thailand, Russia and Estonia. In these countries, HIV is around ten times more common than in Finland. In addition, sex tourism to these countries increases the risk of catching HIV. Also in the Sub-Saharan region in Africa the risk of HIV infection is high. Up to a third of the adult population has an HIV infection.

Also sex between men involves a high risk of catching HIV. Around 40 per cent of infections of Finnish men, who have sex with men, were caught abroad during 2007–2011. The infections were transmitted in various countries. Infections were also caught in countries where HIV is fairly uncommon among the general population, but the occurrence is high among men who have sex with men, such as some West European countries.

Source: The National Institute for Welfare and Health, Matkailijan terveysopas (in Finnish)

How to avoid HIV and other STIs while travelling?

It is impossible for a traveler to evaluate the risk based on the target country’s HIV situation. Every traveler who has unprotected sex  is exposed to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
• Remember to pack condoms
• It is not granted that condoms are easily available in all countries (e.g. catholic and Islamic countries), their quality can be poor or their sizes too small, which may lead to condoms breaking.
• If you have sex with a new or casual partner, always use a condom while having oral sex or vaginal and anal intercourse.
• It is recommended to use lubricant as it prevents sores, prevents the condom from breaking during intercourse and increases pleasure.
• Do not share drug instruments.

Do I need to get tested after my trip?

If you have had unprotected sex or some other kind of risk situation during your trip, definitely get yourself tested for HIV and other STIs, and remember to use a condom in your sex contacts. HIV as well as other STIs may not show any symptoms for a long time, and you may unknowingly transmit them further. Read more about the HIV test.

If you have sought treatment abroad

If you visit a doctor abroad, take copies of your prescriptions and medical certificates, so that you can show them to your doctor in Finland. It is advised to get a follow-up check once you are back in Finland.

Travelling and sexual violence

If you become a victim of sexual violence:
• Do not wash yourself or change your clothes.
• Take contact with the police.
• Go to the doctor even if you do not have any visible injuries.
• Do not stay by yourself; seek help.

You may avoid a possible HIV or other sexually transmissible infection and unwanted pregnancy if you see a doctor immediately – in order to prevent HIV infection, you have to take the preventive medication within 48 hours from the risk situation. However, it is not said that preventive medication is available; all countries do not offer it as a routine to rape victims. In Finland, the need for preventive medication is evaluated by an ID specialist.

When you return from your trip, get yourself checked in order to rule out infections, even if you do not show any symptoms – many STIs can stay asymptomatic for long periods of time. Keep copies of possible medical certificates and show them to your doctor.

Free-of-charge counselling and guidance in questions regarding sexual violence and abuse is provided through Rape crisis centre Tukinainen in Finland.