The identification in January 1983 of human immunodeficiency virus’s (HIV’s) antigen structure opened the door to new means of controlling the spread of the epidemic, notably through the development of specific serotests. The use of these serological tests, which came onto the market in 1985, plays an important role in structuring attitudes and behaviour towards HIV risk for seropositive and seronegative individuals alike. The tests make it possible to identify infected individuals. They also provide, or should provide, a prime opportunity for giving personalized counselling for prevention. As a result, testing is a major public health tool.
With the recent development of new therapies, testing policies must be redefined. The combined administration of several antiretroviral drugs can lead to a marked drop, even the disappearance, of the virus in infected people. Early testing appears to be a public health imperative now more than ever, especially since scientists now commonly believe that people are particularly infective immediately after infection.
Analyzing the socio-demographic characteristics and sexual activity of people who are tested and determining the significance of taking an HIV antibody test thus take on special importance by making it possible to give partial answers to prevention workers and policy-makers’ myriad questions. For example, do these whose sexual behaviour places them at the greatest risk of being infected with HIV take the HIV antibody test, and if so, why? Inversely, do people who face an extremely low risk of being exposed to HIV through sexual behaviour get themselves tested repeatedly? What position does the test occupy in risk adaptation strategies? Does announcing one’s serological status prompt people to change their sexual behaviour, and if so, in what way? How is the decision to take the test made and in what type of