Swab2know: an HIV-testing strategy using oral fluid samples and online communication of test results for men who have sex with men in Belgium

Tom Platteau, Katrien Fransen, Ludwig Apers, Chris Kenyon, Laura Albers, Tine Vermoesen, Jasna Loos, Eric Florence

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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BACKGROUND: As HIV remains a public health concern, increased testing among those at risk for HIV acquisition is important. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are the most important group for targeted HIV testing in Europe. Several new strategies have been developed and implemented to increase HIV-testing uptake in this group, among them the Swab2know project.

OBJECTIVE: In this project, we aim to assess the acceptability and feasibility of outreach and online HIV testing using oral fluid samples as well as Web-based delivery of test results.

METHODS: Sample collection happened between December 2012 and April 2014 via outreach and online sampling among MSM. Test results were communicated through a secured website. HIV tests were executed in the laboratory. Each reactive sample needed to be confirmed using state-of-the-art confirmation procedures on a blood sample. Close follow-up of participants who did not pick up their results, and those with reactive results, was included in the protocol. Participants were asked to provide feedback on the methodology using a short survey.

RESULTS: During 17 months, 1071 tests were conducted on samples collected from 898 men. Over half of the samples (553/1071, 51.63%) were collected during 23 outreach sessions. During an 8-month period, 430 samples out of 1071 (40.15%) were collected from online sampling. Additionally, 88 samples out of 1071 (8.22%) were collected by two partner organizations during face-to-face consultations with MSM and male sex workers. Results of 983 out of 1071 tests (91.78%) had been collected from the website. The pickup rate was higher among participants who ordered their kit online (421/430, 97.9%) compared to those participating during outreach activities (559/641, 87.2%; P<.001). MSM participating during outreach activities versus online participants were more likely to have never been tested before (17.3% vs 10.0%; P=.001) and reported more sexual partners in the 6 months prior to participation in the project (mean 7.18 vs 3.23; P<.001). A total of 20 participants out of 898 (2.2%) were confirmed HIV positive and were linked to care. Out of 1071 tests, 28 (2.61%) with a weak reactive result could not be confirmed, and were thereby classified as false reactive results. Most of the 388 participants who completed posttest surveys (388/983, 39.5%) were very positive about their experience. The vast majority (371/388, 95.6%) were very satisfied, while 17 out of 388 (4.4%) reported mixed feelings.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite a high yield and a considerable number of false reactive results, satisfaction was high among participants. The project helped us to reach the target population, both in numbers of tests executed and in newly diagnosed HIV infections. Further optimization should be considered in the accuracy of the test, the functionalities of the website (including an online counseling tool), and in studying the cost effectiveness of the methodology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)e213
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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