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Around 1 in 7 Americans who are living with HIV do not know it, according to HIV.gov.

Finding out their HIV status allows people to begin treatments that could extend their life and prevent their partners from contracting the infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between ages 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 or another barrier methods
  • have sex with multiple partners
  • inject drugs

There’s a windowgenerally between 2 and 12 months after HIV exposure — in which the immune system begins making antibodies against HIV. Many HIV tests look for these antibodies.

It’s possible to get a negative test result within the first 3 months of being exposed to HIV. To confirm a negative HIV status, get tested again at the end of the 3-month period.

If someone is symptomatic or unsure about their test results, they should seek medical help.

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.

Some HIV tests, whether taken at home or at a health facility, are even able to deliver results within 30 minutes. These are known as rapid tests.

OraQuick In-Home HIV Test

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is currently the only rapid home test the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved. It’s sold online and at drugstores. People need to be at least 17 years old to use it.

To take the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test you must:

  • 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. Another test performed at a commercial or clinical lab is necessary to confirm a positive test result.

Other rapid home tests are available in the United States, but they have not been FDA approved. Using tests that are not FDA approved can be risky and may not always provide accurate results.

There are other HIV tests that can be conveniently purchased online and taken at home in most states. They include tests from Everlywell and LetsGetChecked.

Everlywell

Unlike rapid HIV tests, Everlywell tests do not provide same-day results. The test samples have to first be sent to a lab. However, test results should be available online within 5 business days.

Medical professionals are available to explain the test results and discuss the next steps for people who test positive.

The Everlywell HIV Test uses blood from the fingertip.

LetsGetChecked

The LetsGetChecked Home STD Testing kits test for multiple infections at the same time. These conditions include HIV, syphilis, and with some kits, the herpes simplex virus.

LetsGetChecked does not provide same-day results, as test samples have to first be sent to a lab, but you should know your test results within a week.

This test kit requires both a blood sample and a urine sample.

Testing outside of the United States

Rapid tests that have been approved for HIV home testing outside of the United States include:

  • Atomo HIV Self Test. This test is available in Australia and has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the country’s regulatory agency. It tests for HIV in 15 minutes.
  • autotest VIH. This test is only available in certain parts of Europe. It tests for HIV in 15 to 20 minutes.
  • BioSure HIV Self Test. This test is only available in certain parts of Europe. It tests for HIV in about 15 minutes.
  • INSTI HIV Self Test. This test launched in the Netherlands in 2017 and can be purchased everywhere except the United States and Canada. It promises results within 60 seconds.
  • Simplitude ByMe HIV Test. This test launched in July 2020 and is available in the United Kingdom and Germany. It tests for HIV in 15 minutes.

These particular tests all rely on a blood sample taken from the fingertip.

None of them have been FDA approved for use in the United States. However, the autotest VIH, BioSure, INSTI, and Simplitude ByMe kits all have CE marking.

If a product has CE marking, it complies with the safety, health, and environmental standards set forth by the European Economic Area (EEA).

A new testing method

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 has not 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.

Are home HIV tests accurate?

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.

The at-home test is an antibody-only test. It does not test for HIV antigen, which is typically included in a fourth-generation HIV test done at a hospital or doctor’s office. Tests for HIV antibody and antigen can detect infection sooner.

Simply stated, the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test may not detect HIV as quickly as a blood test would.

What are the benefits of home HIV tests?

HIV is much easier to manage and treat if it’s identified early and treatment is started as soon as possible.

Home HIV tests allow people to receive results almost immediately — sometimes within minutes — without having to wait for an appointment with a healthcare professional 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 they have the virus earlier than any other testing methods. This can help them limit the virus’ effect on them and on others around them.

Early identification can even protect people they do not know, as their sexual partners could potentially contract HIV and then transmit it to others.

Early treatment can suppress the virus to undetectable levels, which makes HIV untransmittable. The CDC considers any viral load of fewer than 200 copies per milliliter (mL) of blood to be undetectable.

Finding a reliable, licensed lab is important for ensuring accurate test results. To find a lab for a blood sample in the United States, people can:

These resources can also help people get tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In the first few weeks after a person has contracted HIV, they may 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 much easier for a person to transmit HIV to others because levels of virus in the blood are very high.

A person should consider taking an HIV test if they experience these symptoms after the following activities:

  • having sex without a condom or another barrier method
  • injecting drugs
  • receiving a blood transfusion (rare) or being an organ recipient

If a person gets a negative test result and it’s been more than 3 months since they may have been exposed, they can be fairly certain that they do not have HIV.

If it’s been less than 3 months since exposure, they should consider taking another HIV test at the end of the 3-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, a qualified lab should retest the sample to make sure it was not inaccurate or have another sample tested. 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 professional as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.

A medical professional can get a person with HIV started on antiretroviral therapy right away. This is a medication that helps stop HIV from replicating and can help prevent transmission of HIV to other people.

It’s important to use condoms, dental dams, or other barrier methods with any and all sexual partners and refrain from sharing needles while waiting for test results or until the virus becomes undetectable in the blood.

Seeing a therapist or joining a support group, whether in person or online, can help 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 a person understand how to lead a healthy, active life after diagnosis.

Seeking additional help from medical professionals, such as social workers or counselors often associated with HIV 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 sexually transmitted diseases (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 and sending it to a lab facility for testing.

The test should be repeated if a person received negative results, but they’re experiencing STD symptoms.

Another option is to have a healthcare professional order another test to ensure that the results are accurate.

Read this article in Spanish.