HIV Home Test Kits: Are All Created Equal?

IMAGE Home medical tests of all kinds have become popular with consumers because they are convenient and provide some measure of privacy. Home medical tests for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are no exception. Barriers to testing in a clinic include fear of test outcome, fear of discrimination, concern for loss of insurance benefits, negative social stigma attached to the diagnosis, and the inability or unwillingness to go for testing and counseling. For people who are unable or reluctant to go to a clinic for testing, home testing is an option.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Home Testing?

There are benefits and drawbacks to home testing for HIV. A few considerations:

PROS

  • Can be done in the privacy of your home using a mail-in test or a rapid, in-home test
  • Can be purchased online or at a local retailer
  • Can be done at your convenience

CONS

  • Testing through local health departments is often free, while home tests cost between $45 and $60. Home testing is not covered by insurance, either.
  • If you test at home and your results are positive, it up to you to notify your previous partners. This important public health measure is routinely done by local health departments around the country.
  • Obtaining test results can be traumatic, especially if the results are positive and a healthcare provider is not there to provide counseling.
  • If you were to leave your PIN around the house or office, anyone could call the toll-free number and use the PIN to obtain the results of a mail-in test. There are greater steps to ensure your privacy if you are tested at a clinic or health department.

Approved Home Test Kits

The FDA has approved two HIV home test kits. One uses a blood sample while the other uses an oral sample.

Blood Sample

The FDA has approved an at home test that uses a blood sample. You begin by calling a toll-free number to register the PIN number that is included in the test kit. You may be asked a series of questions designed to gather general demographic information about gender, age, ethnicity, geographic region, and risk of HIV infection. This information is collected for research to support public health initiatives. Your identity remains completely anonymous.To do the actual test, you prick your finger and collect a small blood sample. The sample will be analyzed by a lab for the presence of antibodies to the HIV virus. The blood sample is mailed to the lab in the special leak-proof envelope provided in each kit along with the PIN number that you registered by phone. The samples are analyzed using national certification standards, and the results are usually available within a week. The results are obtained by phone, fax, or online by giving your PIN number.

Oral Sample

The FDA has approved an at home test that uses fluid from your mouth. To do the actual test, you swab your upper and lower gums for an oral fluid sample. The sample is placed in a tube with a solution. After 20 to 40 minutes, one line will appear if the test is negative. Two lines indicate that HIV antibodies were detected and you may be positive. Follow-up testing is then needed.

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