Take-home HIV tests could help settle nerves

With World AIDS Day approaching next month, FDA advisers are reviewing information from an advisory panel to make a decision on the prospect of making at-home HIV testing kits available over the counter.

At-home testing kits would carry more positives than negatives. Individuals, in conjunction with their doctors, would be able to detect the disease earlier.

People who are nervous about going to the doctor for the test would be able to purchase one at a pharmacy and administer it at home. This could lead to people being diagnosed earlier so they can receive treatment earlier.

The test, called OraQuick, is said to be 99 percent effective. These accuracy statistics are similar to that of a pregnancy test and so is the ease of taking the test.

The way the test works is that “a person takes the OraQuick test by taking a mouth swab and then inserting the swab in a vial of fluid that comes with the test. Twenty minutes later, the device would indicate whether it detects the presence of HIV-1 or HIV-2 antibodies inside cells picked up by the swab,” an Associated Press story reported.

The test is not meant to take the doctor completely out of the diagnosis process; it is meant to make patients feel more comfortable by being able to administer the test to themselves in the privacy of their own home.

Having to take an HIV test is a nerve-wracking prospect for many people, and waiting for test results can add stress to one’s life. The availability of the OraQuick test – which is used in doctor’s offices – for individual purchase would help to ease those fears.

Similar to the procedure with a home pregnancy test, doctors should still be consulted to verify the results of an HIV home test to ensure complete accuracy.

A worry that many in the health care field have expressed is that an individual newly diagnosed with HIV will need immediate support from their doctor or a trained counselor – something unavailable with a home test.

FDA scientist Elliot Cowan said in the AP article that “the biggest issue that has come up repeatedly is suicidal tendencies.”

Makers of the drug recognize this need for support and counseling.

“We believe that it’s very important that we provide individuals who choose to use our product with the capability to get connected with a counselor, to get connected in to the appropriate healthcare setting,” said Doug Michels, CEO of Orasure Technologies, Inc., the company that makes OraQuick, said in an interview with Philadelphia’s CBS 3.

If the availability of this test has the potential to increase the number of HIV-positive people receiving treatment in the United States, there is no reason why the test should not be made available over the counter. The test may not prevent the spread of HIV, but it may very well encourage those who fear they may have been infected to get a diagnosis and start receiving treatment.