Around 1 in 7 Americans who are living with HIV don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Finding out their HIV status allows people to begin treatments that could extend their life and protect their partners from contracting the condition.
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years old get tested at least once. It’s a good idea for someone to get tested regularly if they have sex without condoms, have sex with multiple partners, or inject drugs.
It’s possible to get a negative test result within the first three months of being exposed to HIV. To confirm HIV status, get tested again at the end of the three-month period.
In the past, the only way to get tested for HIV was to go to a doctor’s office, hospital, or community health center. Now there are options for taking an HIV test in the privacy of one’s own home.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test and Home Access HIV-1 Test System have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both are sold at drugstores, but people need to be at least 17 years old to purchase them. Other home tests are available in the United States, but they have not been FDA-approved and may be inaccurate or unsafe.
Tests that have been approved for HIV home testing outside of the United States include:
- BioSure HIV Self Test. This test is only available in certain parts of Europe, meets European quality standards (has CE marking), and uses blood to test for HIV in about 15 minutes.
- Autotest VIH. This test is only available in certain parts of Europe, meets European quality standards (has CE marking), and uses blood from the fingertip to test for HIV.
- INSTI HIV Self Test. This test launched in the Netherlands in 2017, meets European quality standards (has CE marking), and promises results within 60 seconds.
These tests use similar tools and methods to test for HIV, but haven’t been FDA-approved for use in the United States. Using tests that aren’t FDA-approved can be risky and may not provide accurate results.
A 2016 study reported a new testing option that can provide blood test results in fewer than 30 minutes using a USB stick and a drop of blood. It’s the result of a collaborative effort by Imperial College London and the technology company DNA Electronics. This test hasn’t been released to the general public yet or been approved by the FDA. However, it has shown promising results in initial experiments, with testing accuracy measured at around 95 percent.
Each home test works a little differently.
For the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test:
- Swab the inside of the mouth.
- Place the swab in a tube with a developing solution.
Results are available in 20 minutes. If one line appears, the test is negative. Two lines mean that a person may be positive. A follow-up test from a lab is necessary to confirm their status.
For the Home Access HIV-1 Test System:
- Prick a finger and collect a sample of blood on a special piece of paper.
- Send the sample to a lab. A PIN number will be provided so that results remain anonymous.
The lab will test the sample. A few days later, results can be retrieved by calling a phone number. Counseling over the phone is also available for anyone who needs it.
Finding a reliable, licensed lab is important to ensuring accurate test results. To find a lab for a blood sample in the United States, people can:
- go to https://gettested.cdc.gov to enter their location and find a nearby lab or clinic
- call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)
- send a text message with their 5-digit ZIP code to 566948 (KNOW IT)
Home tests are an accurate way to test for HIV. However, they may take longer to detect the virus after exposure than tests performed at a doctor’s office.
HIV antibody levels in saliva are lower than HIV antibody levels in the blood. As a result, the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test may not detect HIV as quickly as a blood test would.
HIV is much easier to control and treat if it’s identified early and treatment is sought during the early stages. Home HIV tests allow people to receive results almost immediately — sometimes within minutes — without having to wait for an appointment with a healthcare provider or take time out of their schedule to visit a lab.
Early identification is essential for successful long-term treatment and survival with HIV. Home tests empower people to learn whether or not they have the virus earlier than any other testing methods. This can help them limit the virus’s effect on them and on others around them. Early identification can even protect people they don’t know, as their sexual partners could potentially transmit it to others. Early treatment can suppress the virus to undetectable levels, which makes HIV untransmittable. The CDC consider any viral load of fewer than 200 copies per milliliter (mL) of blood to be undetectable.
In the first couple of months after a person has contracted HIV, they’ll notice symptoms similar to that of the flu. These symptoms include:
During the early stages, which is known as primary infection or acute HIV infection, it can be easy for a person to transmit HIV to others. If a person experiences these symptoms after having sex not protected by condoms, injecting drugs, or receiving a blood transfusion, they should consider taking an HIV test to see if HIV is the cause.
If a person gets a negative test result and it’s been more than three months since they may have been exposed, they can be very certain that they don’t have HIV.
If it’s been less than three months since exposure, they should consider taking another HIV test at the end of the three-month period to be sure. During that time, it’s best that they use condoms during sex and avoid sharing needles.
If a person gets a positive result, the lab should retest the sample to make sure it wasn’t inaccurate. A positive result on a follow-up test means that a person has HIV.
It’s recommended that people who test positive for HIV see a healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. A healthcare provider can get a person with HIV started on antiretroviral therapy. This is medication that helps stop HIV from progressing and can help prevent transmission of HIV to other people.
It’s important to use condoms or dental dams with any and all sexual partners, and refrain from sharing needles.
Seeing a therapist or joining a support group, whether in person or online, can help a person cope with the emotions and health issues that come with an HIV diagnosis. Dealing with HIV can be stressful and difficult to discuss with even the closest friends and family. Speaking privately with a therapist or being part of a community made up of others with the same medical condition can help someone understand how to lead a healthy, active life after diagnosis.
Seeking out additional help from social workers or counselors associated with HIV or AIDS clinics can also help a person deal with issues related to treatment. These professionals can help navigate scheduling, transportation, finances, and more.
People can test for other STDs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, using home testing kits. These tests usually consist of taking a urine sample or a swab from the genital area to a lab facility for testing.
- Get an at-home test kit at a drugstore or online.
- Find a testing facility to analyze your sample, using https://gettested.cdc.gov, or by calling 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO), or sending a text message with a 5-digit ZIP code to 566948 (KNOW IT)
- Wait for the results.
The test should be repeated if a person received negative results but they’re experiencing STD symptoms. Another option is to get tested again by a healthcare provider to ensure that the results are accurate.