Testing for HIV just got a whole lot easier. The Food and Drug Administration approved a rapid, take home test, making it simple for people to get results whenever they choose in the privacy of their own home.
“It’s a good strategy, but that strategy has to be used with a lot of caution. An HIV diagnosis is a great life-changing event,” says Dr. Marshall D’Souza, an HIV specialist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.
“We have people who may not be comfortable coming into a clinic to get tested who will be able to purchase a test. The concern is once they know their status, if they’re not willing to come into a clinic to get tested, are they willing to come in and get treated,” says Sharon Murphy, Executive Director of the McGregor Clinic.
The over-the-counter test is virtually the same one used at the McGregor Clinic, which is devoted to treating people with HIV and AIDS.
“It’s an OraQuick, so there’s no needle, there’s no blood. It’s a swab inside the mouth. It reads quickly, there’s a double line if it’s positive,” says Murphy.
It reads almost like a pregnancy test. Results come back in 20 minutes. While false positives are rare, a negative reading could be misleading.
“It may be an early infection. Sometimes the test can take as long as three months or sometimes as long as six months to become positive. So a negative test does not mean that there is no HIV; the test needs to be repeated,” says Dr. D’Souza.
It’s estimated more than a quarter-million people in this country are walking around with HIV and don’t know it. The goal is to get them tested and treated.
“Absolutely. HIV is no longer a death sentence. We have very effective drugs, and if people take those drugs, come for follow-up, they can almost lead a normal life,” says Dr. D’Souza.
The first step is knowing your HIV status.