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Home HIV Tests, Rapid HIV Tests and How They Work

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AIDS / HIV related image Photo: Getty Images

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and can ultimately lead to death by AIDS. Since the early 1980s, millions have died worldwide from the virus and millions continue to do so, especially in developing nations. In developed nations, living with HIV, rather than dying of AIDS, is far more common.

According to Avert (Averting HIV and AIDS) about 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide, with the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV in the United States and about 18,000 people die of AIDS in the United States every year. Unfortunately, the rate of global infection is on the rise as is the rate of infection for gay men in America.

Experts believe that many people in the United States have an undiagnosed HIV infection. People do not get tested because they are unaware of the possibility of infection, because they don't care or want to know, or because they are too afraid to go to a doctor's office or clinic to get tested. This is where home HIV tests come in and can offer someone a fast and anonymous way to find out their HIV status.

The home HIV test works by testing the blood for HIV antibodies -- a positive result means that these antibodies have been found in the blood and the person being tested is therefore HIV+. A negative test means there were no antibodies found, therefore the person tested is HIV-.

A person can also get an Indeterminate result which means the test could not confirm or deny the presence of HIV antibodies. This may be due to antibodies just entering the system (meaning the person has been recently infected but too recently to be confirmed on a test) or that they may have another medical condition that is causing the test to fail. It can also mean they are negative.

For this reason, it's important that a person who thinks they may have been recently infected abstain from sex until they have a test. Most people have acquired the antibodies in three to four weeks. However, HIV can take up to three to six months to be found via a home HIV test. Anyone who is sexually active with multiple partners (with no condom use) or drug (needle) users need to be tested at least every three to six months.

Making sure tests are FDA-approved is important. Tests consist of tools to do a very small blood draw that is then sent to a lab for testing. Depending on the kit, results can be gathered anonymously via phone, using a unique PIN that came with the test. Less expensive kits have results ready in two or more days. The FDA-approved kits this writer found ran from about $40 up to about $60.

There are also four rapid HIV tests that have received FDA approval. These are tests that are done in person, in clinics. A person may still remain anonymous in terms of identification. These rapid tests include using saliva (with an oral swab) as the fluid test as well as a blood draw option.

This is good news for people who are afraid of needles. Because there is a rare chance of a false positive with these tests, a followup is required and everyone taking these rapid test must be given information on HIV and AIDS.

Unlike home testing kits, people using rapid tests will receive brief counseling about the possibility of getting a positive result. According to the Centers for Disease Control, studies have shown that people prefer these rapid tests. And people who take rapid tests as opposed to traditional testing are more likely to come back for their results.

Whatever the method of testing, anyone who feels they may have had contact with someone who was HIV+ (whether by sex or needle sharing) needs to get a test and come back for their results. Fast action can mean a long life living quite well with HIV.

Ignoring warning signs can lead to full-blown AIDS and death in several years. Knowledge truly is power.


Avert.org. AVERTing HIV and AIDS. Global HIV and AIDS estimates, end of 2009. Web. Sept. 19 2011.

Centers for Disease Control. A Rapid Review of Rapid HIV Antibody Tests. Web. Sept. 19 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/journal_article/pdf/rapid_review.pdf

FDA - Food and Drug Administration. Vital Facts About HIV Home Test Kits. Web. Sept. 19 2011 http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048553.htm

Reviewed September 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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