The Home HIV Test Kit: What You Should Know

The Home HIV Test Kit: What You Should Know

You may discover OraQuick's In-Home HIV Test on the shelves of the pharmacy section at your local drugstore or Wal-Mart. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in July 2012, the home HIV test is intended to reduce the number of people who have HIV but don't know it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 21 percent of people living with HIV are currently unaware of it. Research shows that people who don't know that they're infected are more likely to spread the virus than people who know their status. Knowing your HIV status is also an important step in the process of seeking and maintaining medical treatment.

OraQuick's In-Home HIV Test detects antibodies that fight off HIV infection and that can be found only in the saliva of people who have been infected with HIV. OraQuick uses saliva, so no blood is required. You swipe your gums with a mouth swab and then place it in a solution. Similar to a pregnancy test, the test stick includes a control line that is automatically visible and a test line that becomes visible only with a positive result. This positive result may or may not represent true HIV infection (more below).

Here are a few tips to help you take and interpret your in-home HIV test:

Read the package insert prior to taking the test. Although this may seem obvious, some test kits may not include all necessary parts, and there are special instructions that, if not followed, may cause your test result to be wrong. For instance, you should not eat, drink or use oral-care products (such as toothpaste or mouthwash) 30 minutes before testing. Also, be sure to remove dental products, such as retainers, prior to swabbing your mouth.

Take this test only if you do not know your HIV status. This test is meant for people who are unaware of their HIV status. People who have tested positive will test positive again.

Be aware of the "window period." After a person becomes infected with HIV, a window period of approximately 22 days exists during which the concentration of HIV in his or her blood, semen and/or vaginal fluid peaks, yet the person may test HIV negative. The person is more likely to spread HIV during the window period than during any other time. So use condoms consistently and do not let your guard down just because you or your partner received a negative test result.

A positive result is only the first step. There is a small possibility that your home HIV test could give you a false HIV-positive result. Approximately 1 in 5,000 tests is estimated to generate a false-positive result. So if you test positive, be sure to follow up with a health-care professional to have a confirmatory test. You can find free testing and counseling sites by visiting the CDC's National HIV and STD Testing Resources website.

A conventional test administered in a health-care setting may provide a more accurate result. Oral home tests are less able to detect HIV antibodies than traditional blood tests performed in a medical office. Oral in-home kits also have a higher likelihood of user error than oral tests administered by trained personnel, so it is important to follow the instructions closely.

Call 911 if you feel depressed or have thoughts of hurting yourself. Approximately 30 percent of people taking the home test reported anxiety after receiving a positive result. The package insert that comes with the test provides a 24-hour customer-service line that can connect you to counseling within your area. You can also find links to counseling and testing in your area by visiting the CDC's Testing Resources website or through OraQuick's website, although some providers may require you to pay out of pocket if you are uninsured.

If you feel uncomfortable viewing your test results alone, seek testing and counseling in your area. The benefit of testing at a clinic or doctor's office is that you can instantly receive recommendations on the next steps for medical care. Many people who have received positive results report feeling additional comfort in knowing that someone is there for emotional support.

Leonard Moore, M.D., is a clinical fellow and resident in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. He has no affiliation with OraSure Technologies.