- HIV self-testing allows you to check your health confidentially.
- Approximately 13 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. don’t know their status.
- With a rapid self-test, you get the results after 20 minutes.
- Mail-in self-tests are more accurate, but you need to wait about a week to get the result.
- Regardless of your test result, make sure to practice safer sex and take care of your sexual health.
Why Should You Get Tested for HIV?
It’s been several decades since news of the HIV virus first came out, and we still don’t have a vaccine or a cure. With the availability of drugs to manage HIV, some people think there’s not much to worry about, but there is. Even with the best treatment, HIV is still a serious illness, and the medicines may have side effects.
In 2019, alone almost 35,000 people got infected with HIV. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 13 percent of people living with HIV in the United States don’t know their status.
Official recommendations say that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested at least once. But if you’ve had risky situations (for example, unprotected sex), you should get checked more often.
HIV Self-Testing at Home
HIV testing is widely available, but not everyone feels comfortable asking their family doctor for a test. Going to a sexual health clinic may also be intimidating. Sometimes, due to your circumstances, it may not be possible to get to a testing location. That’s where HIV home screening comes in.
Here’s what you need to know about home tests:
How Do Home HIV Tests Work?
There are two types of self-testing options to check for HIV:
- Rapid self-test. The rapid test checks the fluid from your mouth for HIV antibodies. It gives you full privacy, and you can do it at home. You get the result within 20 minutes.
- Mail-in test. This test kit checks for HIV antibodies in your blood. You need to prick your finger to take a sample, then send the test to a lab by mail. Results are available after a week, and you need to make a confidential phone call to get them.
Here is a quick overview to help you choose the best option:
|Rapid self-test||Mail-in test|
|Very easy||Easy but requires using a needle to prick your skin|
|Fully confidential||Fully confidential, but you need to make an anonymous call to a special hotline|
|Very fast results||You need to wait at least a week for the result|
|Less reliable||Very reliable|
How To Use an HIV Home Test
HIV self-tests were designed with ease of use in mind. They come with step-by-step instructions, and you can always call a special number for support. You will follow a different procedure depending on the test kit you choose.
Using a Rapid Self-Test
To conduct this test, you need to swab your gums with the stick provided in the kit. It’s important not to eat or drink anything and not to use mouth hygiene products 30 minutes before taking the swab.
To take a sample of the fluid, you need to press the pad on the stick to your upper and lower gums. Then you put the stick in a tube containing a special liquid. After 20 minutes, you will see one or two lines in the test window. Two lines means the result is positive.
Using a Mail-in Test
To take this test, be prepared to make a phone call and go to the mailbox to send your sample on the same day. First, call a free number to register your test kit. The registration process is anonymous.
Then, take a blood sample from your finger. Make sure to have clean hands and disinfect the collection area. You will need to use the safety lancet to make a tiny cut on your finger. Once a drop of blood forms, you need to press it onto the collection card.
Wait 30 minutes for the blood sample to dry out. In the meantime, put a bandage on your finger. Once the sample is ready, put it in the prepaid envelope and send it by mail.
You can call anonymously for results seven business days after shipping your specimen. If you receive a positive result, your phone counselor will discuss treatment options and tell you next steps.
Are Home HIV Test Kits Accurate?
With HIV testing, any checkup is better than no checkup. When done correctly, home tests are very accurate, but there are some things to consider:
If you had a risky encounter, you probably want to get tested as soon as possible, but with HIV infection, there is a window period. During that time, HIV tests may not detect the antibodies, and the result might be a false negative.
For home tests, the window period is 90 days. If you would like to get answers sooner, talk to a healthcare provider and do a standard lab test.
False Positives and False Negatives
HIV home testing is not 100 percent accurate. Some people who have HIV will receive a negative result, and some people who don’t have the virus may get a positive result.
Mail-in tests are the more reliable option, resulting in 99.9 percent of correct results for negatives. With rapid home tests, the situation is a bit more complicated. Approximately 1 person in 5,000 will get a false positive, and 1 in 12 will see a false negative.
A positive HIV test result sounds scary, but remember that it’s not definitive. You need to take another test in the lab to confirm the result. Even if your result was negative, especially if you took a rapid home test, it’s a good idea to repeat the test a few weeks later due to the risk of false negatives.
For More Information
eDrugstore is your source for evidence-based information about your sexual health. Follow our blog for more information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), erectile dysfunction, and other male health concerns.
Taking Care of Your Sexual Health
Regardless of your HIV status, you should make sure that you practice safer sex and get checked regularly for STIs.
Looking for medication to manage the symptoms of an STI? You can order it easily here or by calling 1-800-467-5146 today. We deliver your orders discreetly and free of charge.
Anka Grzywacz is a sexologist, reproductive health expert and Certified Sex Coach™. In her online practice she helps busy women and couples solve their intimate problems.