Recently a new option for HIV testing became available. You can now take
the HIV test at home. However, home testing is not for everyone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved HIV home tests are as accurate
as the antibody tests done in doctors offices and health departments, and
they use the same ELISA/Western Blot/IFA tests. However, not all home test
kits are the same, and some companies are selling unapproved tests, the accuracy of which is unknown (see below). Like other antibody tests, these tests are
subject to the same six-month waiting period in order for the tests to be fully
accurate. The FDA-approved home tests are more than 99% accurate beyond six
months after a possible exposure to the virus.
There are certain pros and cons to using home testing kits.
- A person who's scared about being seen in a clinic can do the test
without anyone outside their home knowing about it. They may feel more
comfortable doing the test alone.
- These tests can be purchased in some stores, or ordered by phone or on
the Internet, and can be an option for those who do not have transportation
to local clinics, or who are home-bound due to disabilities.
- The FDA-approved tests are as accurate as antibody tests commonly used in
clinics around the country. However, keep in mind that, unfortunately, there
are unapproved home HIV tests being sold to consumers (see below).
- Home testing is more expensive than going to the local health department.
Testing through local health departments, and some private agencies, is free
or low-cost. Home test kits can cost up to $50.
- Another issue to be dealt with is confidentiality. If a person buys a
home test kit in a store, everyone in the store will know that the person is
taking an HIV test. Another option would be to purchase the kits by phone or
through the Internet.
- When you order the tests (by phone or via the Internet), you must give
your name and address. When you order by credit card, the charge for the
test will appear on your credit card statement. Although your name is not
linked to your test results, people who see your credit card statement may
find out that you're being tested.
- When taking a test at home, after you're finished taking the test, all
the packaging from the kit has to be well hidden in the garbage. If a
garbage man empties your garbage, and sees the test kit packaging, they'll
know you took an HIV test. Also, if your garbage gets ripped open by
animals, or if the garbage can gets blown open by the wind (and gets blown
all over your neighborhood), your neighbors can also know you've been
tested. So for people taking the home test, I say "hide your garbage!"
- In a home test kit, a person has a test ID card that is used to identify
the specimen by number. Anyone who has the number can get the test result
over the phone. The person who is being tested has to make sure that nobody
else sees the card. Otherwise, any person who sees the card or the number can
get that other person's test results. So it's important that a person getting
tested at home doesn't leave the ID number lying around the house, where
other members of the household can see it. This differs dramatically from
testing through the health department. To ensure confidentiality, health
departments will usually not give test results over the phone or by mail.
Test results through the health department are usually given in person.
- Getting test results over the phone can be hard to deal with, especially if
the test is positive. A person can just hang up and never hear all the
counseling and information they need to hear. For this reason test counseling is best done face-to-face, and is most effective this way.
- Using home testing, if a person is positive, there is no way to do
partner notification (anonymously helping a person's sex/needle-sharing partners know
they've been exposed). Partner notification is
routinely done by local health departments around the country for HIV and
other STDs. Home testing bypasses this
important, and proven, preventive health measure.
- There are presently two home HIV testing companies that have received FDA approval for these types of tests, Home Access, and Confide, which is no longer on the market. Unfortunately I recently discovered at least three other companies that are
selling home HIV tests that have not been approved by the FDA. The three companies I found were all advertising via the Internet. Beware of these unapproved kits and only use Home Access for now. (For more information, look at The Body's section on HIV Testing.)
I have seen a growing number of home tests on the Internet, claiming accurate
tests that can be done in the home, without sending a specimen to a
laboratory. They often claim that results can be obtained in about 15
minutes. NONE OF THESE TESTS HAVE BEEN APPROVED, AND THE ACCURACY OF THESE
TESTS IS UNKNOWN! Two of these tests used blood, and another used saliva.
There is an FDA-approved saliva HIV antibody test (called Orasure), but it
has not yet been approved for home use. You must go through your doctor to
get a saliva antibody test.
I have also seen on the Internet home chlamydia tests, home TB tests, home
hepatitis B tests, home drug screening tests and a growing number of other
unapproved home tests. This is a growing market, and there will always be
people trying to make money off of home testing, by selling unapproved tests.
Therefore, unless a home HIV test is from Home Access, the accuracy of the test is unknown.
I personally have tried the home testing kits. Since I live in a rural
community in the United States, I had to be very careful regarding
confidentiality, especially when it came to "hiding my garbage." Also, I can
see some people having difficulty in doing a fingerstick to draw blood for
The test itself takes about an hour to do (which includes time for the
specimen to dry and to package up the sample to send to the lab). It also
includes a lot of reading material. I
therefore recommend about two hours to do the test at home. This includes all
the time to read the materials, and to do the actual test.
It is up to you to decide whether home testing is for you.
However, you must first understand the pros and cons of home testing. It
has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks, as discussed above. But
if you decide to take a home test, make sure that it is sold by a legitimate
company. Otherwise, you may be wasting your money, and possibly endangering your health.
Do you want more information on AIDS, STDs or safer sex? Contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control AIDS hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-CDC-INFO. Or visit The Body's Safe Sex and Prevention Forum.
Until next time . . . Work hard, play hard, play safe, stay sober!