If you think you might have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, you need to find out for sure. Fortunately, there's a quick, reliable, and completely confidential way to know whether or not you carry the virus. You don't have to schedule a doctor's appointment or get a referral from a clinic. You don't even have to leave your house. You can buy a Home Access HIV-1 Test System online, at a pharmacy, or by phone, mail, or fax order, whichever you prefer. This easy-to-use test has given many people peace of mind about HIV. It has also helped many others start the treatment they need to keep the infection under control.
How does the test work?
Strictly speaking, you don't really test yourself for HIV. Instead, the Home Access system allows you to collect a blood sample at home and send the sample to a lab. The lab will then check your blood for HIV antibodies.
Here's what you do:
Using a lancet (a sharp instrument) that comes with the kit, you'll prick your finger and place blood drops on a special piece of paper. According to the manufacturer, you'll only need enough blood to cover a space as large as a dime. Then you put the blood sample in a special envelope and send it to the lab. Using the code number that comes with the kit, you can anonymously call the toll-free number to get your results. A counselor will explain the findings and discuss your next steps. If the test is positive, you should assume that you have HIV, but you should also get a follow-up test from a doctor to confirm the result.
If you use an Express (next-day) HIV-1 test, you can call the lab one business day after shipping the sample. If you use the standard HIV-1 test system, the results should be available after seven business days. Home Access sells its Express Kit online for $59.95. The standard kit sells for $44. The prices might be different if you buy either kit in a pharmacy.
How accurate are the results?
When blood contains antibodies to HIV, the Home Access test is 100 percent accurate. If a person doesn't have HIV, the test is 99.5 percent accurate. That means that five people out of 1,000 who don't have HIV will wrongly be told that the test detected antibodies to HIV. That's why anyone who gets a positive reading should get a follow-up test to confirm the result.
If you've recently had unprotected sex, shared a needle, or done something else that might have exposed you to HIV, you should know that the test doesn't work well on brand-new infections. After a person gets infected, it usually takes two to eight weeks for antibodies to show up in the blood. In rare cases, it may take as long as three to six months. So if you get the test too soon after an infection, it may fail to detect any antibodies even though you do have the virus. If an early test is negative, consider getting tested again in a few months.
Which test can I trust?
While there are many home HIV tests on the market, the Home Access System is the only one that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it's the only one that's backed by extensive clinical research. Other companies may make impressive claims -- including promises that you can get results within 15 minutes using a saliva sample -- but with no evidence to back up their marketing boasts. If you are unsure whether a particular HIV home test kit is FDA-approved, you can check on the agency's list of screening tests.
Some of these other kits fall far short of their promises. One kit, Discreet, claimed to be 99.4 accurate, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the test provided wrong results more than half the time. The company agreed to stop selling the kits in the United States in 2005.
What are some of the disadvantages of the home test?
While the Home Access test has some advantages -- ease, anonymity, accuracy -- it has some potential drawbacks, too. Compared to rapid HIV tests offered by many clinics that can produce results in as little as 20 minutes, the home test is relatively slow. And since many public health clinics offer free HIV screening, you could find out your status without spending $40 or $50 for a Home Access test. Perhaps most important, people who get tested for HIV at a hospital or health clinic have face-to-face contact with a health professional who can answer questions and offer advice.
Still, the Home Access system can be a valuable tool. Checking for HIV at home is infinitely better than not getting tested at all.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Testing yourself for HIV-1: Questions and answers. 2009.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vital facts about HIV home test kits. 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIVtest.org. Frequently asked questions.
Federal Trade Commission. Defective HIV test kit marketer settles FTC charges. 2005.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Testing yourself for HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS. 2001.
Home Access Health Corporation.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Complete List of Donor Screening Assays for Infectious Agents and HIV Diagnostic Assays