Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Home Test for HIV

The first in-home HIV test kit became available last month in retail stores nationwide. The test kit, called OraQuick, was approved by the FDA in July, but it took until October to ramp up production and launch a nationwide sales effort.

The kit is designed to test a sample of oral fluid for antibodies to HIV in under 45 minutes. The kit has a reported false positive rate (identifying a person as HIV-infected when in fact he/she is not) of only 0.02%, or 1 in 5,000 persons. However, it has a false negative rate (failure to identify an HIV-infected person as infected) of 8%, meaning that HIV infection will be missed in 1 in 12 infected persons. The reason for the higher false negative rate is because the test detects the human antibodies that develop in response to HIV infection, not the HIV virus itself, and it takes several months after initial infection for these antibodies to develop.

A similar test has been available in doctors’ offices for some time. Nevertheless, health officials are hailing the home test as an important step forward in the fight against HIV-AIDS. The hope is that the availability of an inexpensive home test will encourage more people to test themselves for HIV infection, and then to seek treatment if they test positive.

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