What I Think About HIV Home Testing
By Rae Lewis-Thornton
July 3, 2012
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
Today the FDA approved OraQuick's first rapid at-home HIV Antibody Test. I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. On one level I get it, there are about 240,000 people in the United States who do not know their HIV status and with this in mind, there is a need to have as many vehicles possible for people to get HIV tested.
Testing is important because the earlier you know your status, the earlier you get into treatment, the longer you are likely to live. Also, early antiviral treatment lowers the chances by 96 percent that a person will pass HIV to their partners. Approximately 38 percent of newly diagnosed cases of HIV are people infected by persons who didn't know that they were infected. With 50,000 new cases of HIV in the United States a year, testing is critical. Treatment can become a form of prevention, but people have to know their status to get to this point. Also, most people who know their HIV status try to protect their partners from infections
I get it! Testing is important! However, I also understand that there is still so much stigma around HIV. I think technology around HIV/AIDS has surpassed attitudes about HIV. Some days, I think we are still in the dark ages with how people feel about people with HIV. I blogged about that on Monday's Reflection.
I'm not sure that testing yourself alone is the best place to learn your status. If your test comes back negative there will be a huge relief. But what happens when you test positive? Will you have enough courage to go to the doctor to begin the treatment process?
The guilt and shame that comes with an HIV diagnosis is insurmountable. A person has to be strong to get a positive HIV test result at home. For Real! I learned my status from the Red Cross after routinely donating blood. It was in the early days, so the meeting only lasted 5 minutes. There wasn't much to tell me back then. The only hope was that I would never make a transition to AIDS. If I didn't know God, I mean if I hadn't already lived a lifetime by the time I was 23 and diagnosed with HIV, I would have walked straight into the Potomac River. But I did know God, and I have always believed that God's plan was bigger than my plan, so I kept it moving.
But what about the people who don't have that kind of solid strength? What about those who test positive and go into denial. I foresee a lot of denial and that's both easy and dangerous. It's easy because there are no HIV symptoms, NONE. Symptoms only come 7-10 years after you are infected with HIV and making a transition to AIDS. A person can test positive and walk away thinking, "This has got to be wrong, I don't feel sick."
Also, the home test is only 92 percent accurate for people who are actually positive, while 99.98 for those who do not have HIV. ... Both of these come with a host of self-explanatory problems.
At the end of the day, I still believe the best place to get tested for HIV is in a clinic that specializes in HIV testing, like an AIDS clinic or the health department with trained HIV counselors. Pre- and post-testing counseling is important. It helps you to hash out your life in a way to truly understand your risk factors, it provides support and reassurance, no matter what your test result is. Taking an HIV test in isolation can be dangerous.
If in fact you do decide to use the home HIV test, my recommendation is that no matter what your test results are, you should be re-tested with a blood draw by a health professional.
If you do test positive for sure, you must seek medical attention immediately; knowing that you are positive and doing nothing at all is just like not knowing. Except you do know. Slowing disease progression should be your priority. Yes, it's true that HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it once was, but that is only true if you seek treatment as early as possible.
Technology has come a long way in the 32 years since the first cases of HIV in the United States. If we are going to take advantage of these advancements, we should do it in the best way possible for our best benefit, otherwise it's futile.
Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
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