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The New Saliva HIV Tests

October 1997

For years, we have been testing folks for HIV using blood tests. It's something people have become accustomed to. But what if you don't like getting blood tests? What if you really hate getting stuck with a needle?

Until now, when it came to HIV testing, you had two choices ... get stuck with a needle, or don't get tested at all. Now, for those of you who hate needles, you have an additional choice. It's the saliva HIV antibody test, sold under the name &"OraSure.&" Like the blood tests, this test looks for HIV antibodies. Technically, it's not really testing for HIV antibodies in saliva. It's actually looking for HIV antibodies in a fluid in the mouth called &"Oral mucosal transudate.&" But for simplicity sake, I will simply refer to it as the saliva test.

This test does not look for HIV itself. It looks for antibodies to the virus. Although oral mucosal transudate and saliva can have the virus in them, the concentrations of HIV in them are extremely low. This is why kissing and receiving oral sex are very low risk activities, as far as HIV is concerned. Although these body fluids have very low concentrations of HIV in them, they do have antibodies to the virus in them. It's these antibodies to HIV that the test looks for. Like the standard blood antibody tests, you must wait 6 months after your last possible exposure to the virus for the most accurate test result. These tests are as accurate as the blood tests.

These tests are still relatively new, so most places don't do the saliva tests yet. This is primarily because the saliva tests are more expensive than the blood tests. These tests are currently available through private doctor's offices. The cost of these tests are about $35, plus the cost of the visit to the doctor. The doctor can then add whatever they wish to the cost of the test itself.

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The specimen is collected right in the doctor's office, and is then sent off to a lab. These tests are NOT yet available for home testing. BEWARE: There are already some unapproved, home saliva tests available, that are being sold illegally (especially on the Internet). These are NOT the OraSure tests I'm discussing here. The home saliva tests presently available, have not been proven to be either accurate or safe to use, and are not approved by the FDA. Therefore, unless it's an OraSure test that's done through your doctor, don't waste your time or money on an unapproved HIV test. Stick with the FDA approved tests that have been proven to be both safe and accurate.

So in summary, if you're one of those folks who just hate needles and blood tests, and you're willing to pay a little extra money, you can now get an HIV test, without getting stuck with a needle.


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!



  
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This article was provided by Rick Sowadsky, M.S.P.H..
 
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