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Anyone who might have HIV should visit a healthcare professional. At-home tests can provide a rapid result, potentially easing a person’s concerns while they wait for an appointment.
HIV can spread through blood, semen and “precum,” rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.
Without treatment, HIV progresses to stage 3, which people commonly refer to as AIDS. However, current treatments can prevent this and boost health and immunity.
For most people, within about 6 months of effective treatment, the viral load in the body is undetectable. At this point, HIV cannot pass on to others.
Anyone with a high risk of contracting the virus might consider pre-exposure prophylaxis as a preventive measure. Post-exposure prophylaxis, which a person takes after exposure to the virus, may also be an effective option.
This article explains how rapid HIV tests work and provides some general information about HIV testing.
In the United States, many at-home HIV tests are on the market. Choosing one that is safe and reliable is key.
- nucleic acid tests (NATs)
- antigen/antibody tests, also called fourth-generation tests
- antibody tests
NATs are not rapid. They require a healthcare professional to draw a blood sample and send it to a laboratory for analysis. This can take a few days. These tests measure the viral load — the amount of HIV in the blood.
Some antigen/antibody tests are likewise slow because they also involve drawing and analyzing a blood sample from a vein. But other versions of these tests require only a small blood sample from a finger prick. They take about
Most rapid HIV tests are antibody tests, the third category above. They work by analyzing blood or oral fluids and usually take 20–30 minutes. The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is one example.
Different HIV tests work in different ways. For instance, NATs detect the amount of the actual virus in a blood sample. Antibody tests check for specific proteins that the immune system produces in response to HIV exposure.
Antigen/antibody tests do the same and also check for antigens. These are molecules or foreign substances in viruses, and other pathogens, that activate an immune system response. For example, p24 is a protein inside the HIV virus, and certain tests can detect it.
It is important to remember that no HIV test can detect the virus immediately after exposure. Antibody tests can only detect HIV
Another factor to consider is that HIV tests are never 100% reliable. For instance, the FDA reports that the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test gives
Even if a person tests within the window when results are most likely to be accurate, they may still receive an inaccurate result. This is why professional follow-up testing is crucial.
Also, at-home tests can produce false-negative results due to any errors in their use or any medications a person is already taking to treat or prevent HIV.
Most rapid and self-tests are antibody tests that can detect the infection
The CDC recommends that everyone aged 13–64 take an HIV test
- anyone with another sexually transmitted infection
- men and some trans women who
have sex with men
- people with multiple sexual partners
- people who have shared needles or syringes with others
- anyone who has had hepatitis or tuberculosis
While a negative test result often means that a person does not have HIV, some people with the virus may not develop antibodies within 2 months, and so may receive a false-negative result on an antibody test.
For this reason, anyone who suspects that they were exposed to HIV but received a negative result might test again after 3 months.
Different tests have different instructions. OraQuick provides these instructions for its FDA-approved at-home HIV test:
- Avoid eating, drinking, or using oral care products 30 minutes before the test.
- Remove any dentures.
- Swab the gums using the pad provided to collect the oral fluid sample.
- Insert the pad into the test tube, which is the upper part of the test kit.
- Read the result after 20 minutes.
Contact the company’s support team with any questions or about any problems using the kit.
Suspected exposure to HIV can be worrying. Taking a rapid test at home can help reduce uncertainty as a person waits for an appointment with a professional.
Also, as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, the convenience of testing from home may increase rates of testing, particularly among people who are less likely to visit clinics, such as adolescents.
But it is crucial for anyone who may have HIV to receive attention from a medical professional.
Healthcare professionals can also provide prescriptions and counseling about the next steps. The WHO calls on community organizations, too, to provide counseling about what to do when an at-home test is positive or negative.
Whether the result of an at-home test is positive or negative, it is crucial to get a follow-up test from a healthcare professional, because these tests are more accurate. This is especially important for people who suspect that they have had exposure to HIV.
If clinical testing is negative, it is usually safe for a person to conclude that they do not have the infection. If clinical testing is positive, the doctor will recommend the next best steps.
Although having an HIV diagnosis can be stressful and frightening, many people who receive effective treatment have life expectancies that
Below, learn about the accuracy, price, process, and availability of these tests.
|In-person HIV test||At-home HIV test|
|Accuracy||These are more likely to be accurate, as healthcare professionals are trained to give tests and interpret the results.||These are less accurate, as people may not be familiar with test kit use and interpreting results.|
|Price||This varies, depending on location and insurance.||OraQuick is available for $38.99 from its manufacturer.|
|How it is performed||A healthcare professional draws blood from a vein and sends it to a lab for testing.||Rapid self-tests: A person swabs their gums with the pad provided, inserts the pad into the test kit’s tube, and waits 20 minutes to read the result.|
Mail-in self-tests: A person collects their blood sample at home, mails it to a lab for testing, and a doctor contacts them with their result.
|Where it is available||These are available at doctor’s offices and clinics, including family planning clinics.||OraQuick is available through the company’s website, in pharmacies, or in stores such as Walmart.|
The CDC reports that by the end of 2018, about
Rapid HIV tests are an important tool to slow the spread of HIV. Testing from home can help reduce uncertainty while a person waits for an appointment with a healthcare professional. But is important to receive follow-up testing in a clinical setting, especially after suspected exposure to the virus.
With effective treatment, many people with HIV have life spans comparable to those of people without the infection.