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What to Know About Home HIV Tests

Medically Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on March 31, 2020

Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get an HIV test at least once as part of routine screening. Too many people have the virus that can cause AIDS and don’t know it.

If you or a loved one is at a higher risk for HIV, such as because of drug use with a needle or unprotected sex, it’s a good idea to get tested often. You can get screened at many places, including at your doctor’s office, pharmacies, and local health clinics.

You also can take the test at home yourself. Here’s how to do it, and what you should know about self-testing.

Home Test Types

Home Access HIV-1 Test System. With this over-the-counter kit, you prick your finger and put a drop of blood on special paper. You then mail the sample to a testing lab. You need to wait about a week before you call a toll-free phone number for your results using your anonymous personal identification number. You’ll also be offered counseling by telephone if you need it.

OraQuick In-Home HIV Test. You can buy this test online or at a pharmacy. This quick-result test checks for HIV antibodies in a sample of saliva. You swab your upper and lower gums with a test stick. You then insert the sample into a vial filled with a fluid and wait 20-40 minutes and read the result.

Accuracy

The Home Access HIV-1 Test System is extremely reliable. Studies show that it will detect HIV antibodies -- indicating that your blood has virus that causes AIDS -- more than 99.9% of the time. When your sample gets a positive result, the lab will confirm it with another test before you can call for your result.

The test is also 99.9% accurate if your results are negative, meaning that you don’t have HIV. So you can be highly confident of either answer.

The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is less accurate. This test will find HIV antibodies 92% of the time. That means it will miss an HIV infection in 1 of 12 people who have it. OraQuick rarely gives false positive results, meaning that it’s unlikely to say you have HIV if you don’t.

But experts recommend that if you test positive on OraQuick, you should view the results as preliminary. You should confirm it with a second test from your doctor or a medical clinic so that you can get the care you need.

For both of these tests, if you test negative, you may want to get tested again if you’ve done anything recently that could have exposed you to the virus. That’s because it can take 3-6 months for your body to make HIV antibodies, so taking a test before or during this “window period” may miss an infection.

The Right Test for You

Should you get screened for HIV at a clinic or your doctor’s office, or take the test yourself? And which home test is best for you? The answers to these questions may help you decide:

  • How important is it that no one else knows that you’re taking the test or its results?
  • How important is accuracy?
  • Are you willing to get a follow-up test if needed?
  • How quickly do you want to get your results?
  • How do you want to receive your results?

If you’re at risk for HIV, any test is better than no test. A study of men who have sex with men who received self-tests in the mail found that they were likely to be screened for HIV more often. So the tests caught more HIV infections. The men who tested positive also shared the information with others they knew.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

HIV.gov: “Learn about HIV testing.”

CDC: “HIV Testing: Self-testing.”

FDA: “Information regarding the Home Access HIV-1 Test System,” “Information regarding the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test,” “Testing for HIV.”

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