So you’ve fallen in love with Italy, and while probably an Italian or two by now. But now the time has come to have the conversation – have you been tested? Chances are when you ask an Italian they might just say no, why? or they will tell you Yes… but only for HIV. STD testing is not as common as it may be for many of us in the States – where we are taught to get tested about once a year, or between partners.
Italy carries a wee bit of a conservative undertone when it comes to discussions about sexual health. However, times are changing, and conversations around sexual health, including STDs, are becoming more prevalent.
Cultural Attitudes and Sexual Health Conversations
Now, regarding cultural attitudes, I can’t offer solid data. All I can offer is my own experience as well as that of fellow female expats in Italy. Largely we have seen that things like STDs, STIs, and sexual health are not discussed unless you present the topic. Even then, you might get some uncomfortable and awkward responses. Often when we have gone to doctors, enquiring about testing, there seems to be an air of judgment. Those things are only for “people with many partners” suggesting… maybe you shouldn’t? At times this also comes onto the dating scene, when potential partners may feel judged or judge you. The thought process is often that the fewer partners you have means you wouldn’t have been subject to STDs.
It’s important to note this isn’t EVERY doctor, not EVERY Italian’s reaction, but it has been fairly common in our shared experiences.
Clearly, there seems to be a lack of sexual education regarding health.
Why you should get regularly tested – yes even abroad!
Getting tested regularly means looking after your own health as well as the health of your community and those around you. You can help stop the spread by being aware of your own situation. Some infections might not have symptoms for you but could affect others. By getting tested regularly you can also catch infections and diseases early, being sure to treat them before they can cause damage – remember certain infections can cause infertility, while others may even be fatal.
You should aim to get tested at least once a year, if you are sexually active and have multiple partners, it’s better to test every 6 months.
By the Numbers: Italy’s STD Stats
The primary infections affecting Italy’s population are HPV (65.2k cases 80% of reported infections), Latent Syphilis (12k cases, 8%), and Genital Herpes (10k cases, 7%). In recent years Italy has had about 4000-5000 new reported STI cases per year. They have noticed it has been increasing every year, in fact, gonorrhea cases have tripled from 2010-2021. Infections are primarily found in men (71%) and individuals between 30-35. You can read more information here.
However, it is important to note that in Italy, the only infections that are required to be reported are Gonorrhea, Syphilis and Crabs. Even these are often under reported, meaning it is very difficult to get a true idea of STI’s in Italy. According to one study, it would appear that Italy maintains a rate of less STI’s than the EU average, yet this study was conducted in few regions, and acknowledges the difficulty in trusting reported cases.
HIV In Italy
Specifically looking at HIV, there are estimated to be 140k reported individuals living with HIV currently in Italy. There is ART therapy available, but it is very difficult to access the information on these cases and situations due to lack of reporting.
Resources for STD Testing in Italy
If you have your tessera sanitaria, you can in theory get free testing via your medico di base or the consultorio familiar. All you have to do is make an appointment and request the testing, they will give you a ricetta – a prescription – to go get tested at the local analysis centers.
I say in theory, because many fellow expats were met with resistance when they took this road and were told either there was no need, or simply not given the ricetta.
If this happens to you, or you are not on Italian healthcare, you can go to a few locations both free and paid. Some of these paid ones can cost 200-300€ so be aware, and try to go the free route first if you can.
In Milan you can make an appointment with the Centro Sant’Agostino.
You can also make an appointment for a great price with Doctors in Italy’s onsite clinic, find more information here.
You can use the services of ISPRO.
In Rome you can try Casa Internazionale della Donna or any other large clinic.
You can always use doctorsinitaly.com to help you get a referral to get tested, wherever you are in Italy. Also if you would like to donate blood, AVIS, who organizes national blood drives, will always test for HIV pre-donation.
Know of anywhere else? Please comment below so we can share more resources!
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