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It is estimated that about 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. Of those people, around 13 percent (or 1 in 7) are unaware of it.

Knowing HIV status can lead to earlier treatment and help prevent disease progression, for example, progression to AIDS and other infections that may become more likely with a weakened immune system. It’s also important for preventing transmission to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between ages 13 and 64 is 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 multiple sexual partners
  • use injection drugs
  • share needles

Transgender, Black, and Latinx populations are also disproportionately affected. This may be due to barriers to healthcare and stigma and racism within the healthcare system.

There’s a window in which the immune system begins making antibodies against HIV, and many HIV tests look for these antibodies. Rapid home tests can detect them within 90 days.

It’s possible to get a false-negative test result within the first 3 months of exposure 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 at 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 HIV tests.

A doctor can order an HIV test for a patient to use at home, but it’s not required. This test requires taking a small sample of blood through a finger stick and placing it onto a card. Then the card is mailed to a lab. The person’s doctor, or the company if purchased without a doctor, will contact them with the results.

A rapid HIV self-test uses a sample of fluid from the mouth to check for antibodies to HIV. This quick HIV test involves a swab of the top and bottom gums using the stick included in the kit. The stick then goes into a vial containing a developer solution. Results are available in 20 to 40 minutes.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one rapid HIV test measured at about 92 percent accuracy at detecting HIV. But about 1 out of 12 tests result in a false negative, which means testing negative when a person is actually positive. About 1 out of 5,000 people will test positive when they don’t have HIV.

It’s also important to know that it takes the body up to 3 months to produce antibodies to HIV. Taking a rapid HIV test less than 3 months after exposure may not produce an accurate result.

Anyone with a positive result on a home rapid HIV test should check with a healthcare professional or call the product’s customer support center. A follow-up test can confirm the results.

A note on price

Private health insurance may not cover the cost of an at-home HIV test bought at a drugstore or online. Some local health departments and organizations like Do It Right provide these tests free or at a reduced cost.

Price guide

  • $ = under $50
  • $$ = $50–$150
  • $$$ = over $150

OraQuick In-Home HIV Test

  • Price: $
  • Method: oral swab
  • Results window: 20 to 40 minutes

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is currently the only rapid home test approved by the FDA. 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:

  1. Swab top and bottom gums with the enclosed stick.
  2. Place the swab in a tube with a developing solution.

Results are available in 20 to 40 minutes. If one line appears, the test is negative. Two lines indicate a positive result. Another test performed at a commercial or clinical lab is necessary to confirm a positive test result.

Clinical studies have shown that the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test has an expected performance of approximately 92 percent for test sensitivity.

A note on FDA approval

Other rapid home tests are available in the United States, but they have not been FDA approved. Using tests that are not FDA approved 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

  • Price: $$
  • Method: finger-stick blood test
  • Results window: within 5 business days

Everlywell is a fourth generation HIV test. It measures both antibodies to the virus and proteins called HIV p24 antigens from cells containing the virus.

Insurance doesn’t cover test cost, but Everlywell does accept payment from health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) payments.

The Everlywell HIV Test uses blood taken from the fingertip with a small needle provided in the test kit. Unlike rapid HIV tests, Everlywell tests do not provide same-day results. The test samples have to first be sent to a lab. 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 with positive test results.

LetsGetChecked

  • Price: $$–$$$
  • Method: blood and urine sample
  • Results window: 2 to 5 days

This test kit requires both a blood sample and a urine sample. LetsGetChecked does not provide same-day results, as test samples have to first be sent to a lab. Test results should be available within 2 to 5 days.

The LetsGetChecked Home STD Testing kits test for multiple sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the same time.

The Standard 5 tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, HIV, and syphilis.

The Complete 8 tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, HIV, syphilis, Gardnerella, mycoplasma, ureaplasma.

LetsGetChecked doesn’t accept health insurance, but you can pay with HSA or FSA.

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. However, this service is temporarily unavailable, as the company has shifted focus to filling demand for COVID-19 testing.
  • 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.

This means a product 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.

More new tests are in development. Some are investigating nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at an atomic scale. Others use biosensors, coupling an antibody with a transducer. These new technologies could enhance the speed and accuracy of HIV tests in the future.

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. However, Everlywell’s at-home HIV test is also a fourth-generation test and does detect antigens, so it may be the most reliable at-home option.

Simply stated, most rapid HIV tests are less accurate than medical office tests because tests for HIV antibodies and antigens can detect infection sooner. 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 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 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. A viral load of fewer than 50 copies per milliliter (mL) of blood is considered 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:

  • Go to Gettested.cdc.gov to enter location and find a nearby lab or clinic.
  • Call 800-232-4636 (800-CDC-INFO).
  • Visit the nearest local public health center.

These resources can also help people get tested for other STIs.

In the first few weeks after a person has contracted HIV, they may notice flu-like symptoms. These symptoms include:

During the early stages, which is known as primary infection or acute HIV infection, HIV is much easier to transmit 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
  • using injection drugs
  • receiving a blood transfusion or being an organ recipient, though these are rarely connected with HIV

Getting a negative test result more than 3 months since exposure usually rules out a case of HIV.

If it’s been less than 3 months since exposure, consider taking another HIV test at the end of the 3-month period to be sure. During that time, it’s best to use condoms during sex and avoid sharing needles.

If a person gets a positive result, a qualified lab should retest the sample or a new sample to check on the accuracy. 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.

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

Seeing a therapist or joining a support group, whether in person or online, can help cope with the emotions and health questions that come with an HIV diagnosis. Managing HIV can be stressful and difficult to discuss with even close 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.

Products to try

Barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams, can help prevent the transmission of STIs.

Shop for them online:

People can test for other STIs and 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.

Getting tested

  • Get an at-home test kit at a drugstore or online.
  • Find a testing facility to analyze the sample by visiting Gettested.cdc.gov or calling 800-232-4636 (800-CDC-INFO).
  • Wait for the results.

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

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

Read this article in Spanish.