The first HIV self-test kit for home use and instant results is now on the market in the United Kingdom. Similar products were approved for sale in the U.S. two years ago. The do-it-yourself HIV kits allow people to privately take a test and find out the results quickly, much like a home pregnancy test.
The new test available in the UK is made by BioSure UK and can be ordered online. The test requires a small drop of blood taken from a finger tip. It measures levels of antibodies made in response to the virus and displays two purple lines if the results are positive in approximately 15 minutes.
In the U.S., there are two DIY home tests that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): The Home Access HIV-1 Test System and the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test. They both operate differently than the one going on sale in England, Scotland and Wales.
The Home Access Test System also involves pricking a finger to collect a blood sample. But then the sample is send to a license laboratory and the test taker has to call for results. If the test is positive, a follow-up test is performed. (A similar type kit has been available in the U.K.; the new one introduced this week eliminates the need to send off samples and wait for results.)
The OraQuick In-Home Test involves using a swab to take an oral fluid sample and then the kit materials to test it. The results are available in about 20 minutes.
All three products, which cost about $40 or £30, are great for giving people privacy and peace of mind. While the home swab seems simpler (and less messy), it has the lowest accuracy rate. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 12 people get a false negative with the OraQuick test. That is partly because oral fluids show the infection later than blood. That said, blood from a vein, which is the test done in hospitals and clinics is more accurate than a pinprick test. However, BioSure maintains their test is 99.7 percent accurate. With any test, experts recommend that people should retake the test three months later; it can take that long for antibodies to show so an early negative result might not be accurate.
People have criticized the tests for two reasons. Those who take the HIV tests find out the results on their own. There is concern about reactions without anyone there to counsel them (the test kits have telephone numbers where people can call and take with someone about their results).
The other concern is that the DIY tests are not as accurate as tests in a doctor’s office. However, public health officials and AIDS/HIV charities say the home tests are better than no tests. They encourage people to get checked out who would be reluctant to ask their doctor for a test.
By some estimates, one in five people living with HIV in the U.S. In the U.K., the estimate is that 30 percent of those living with HIV remain undiagnosed. Even higher proportions in other countries are unaware of their HIV infection status.
BioSure’s founder Brigette Bard said the HIV home use test kits on the market now in the U.K. are a significant step towards standardizing testing for HIV. She added, ‘Knowing your HIV status is critical.” Bard believes her company’s product makea it easy for “people to discreetly test themselves when it is convenient to them and in a place where they feel comfortable.”
By Dyanne Weiss