In July, the Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the-counter HIV test, OraQuick, which allows people to check themselves at home for the virus that causes AIDS. The results show up within 20 to 40 minutes after the completion of the test.
Many Americans are unaware that they have HIV because, initially, there are no or few symptoms. According to a July 3 USA Today article by Matthew Perrone, government officials estimate one in five HIV carriers do not know they are infected.
OraQuick, marketed by OraSure Technologies Inc., was created in hopes of lowering that number and minimizing the spread of the virus. HIV testing is not currently included in routine checkups, and testing carries a stigma in many parts of the world.
Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and online pharmacies will begin selling the test kit in October. The price is still unknown, but it is estimated to be less than $60.
Many people have criticized the use of home HIV tests because medical professionals are not there with the patient.
“People will definitely miss out on that benefit of having counselors there,” said Julie Gibbs, assistant director of Lafene Health Center.
Doug Michels, CEO of OraSure, said the company will provide a 24-hour, toll-free call center for counseling, according to the USA Today article. The call center operators will answer questions ranging from how to use the product and what to do when the results come in to what HIV actually is.
The test is billed as a convenient way to get checked for HIV without having to seek medical attention right away, but it is recommended that those who take the test schedule a follow-up visit with a doctor. When used by medical professionals, the test shows accurate results 99 percent of the time. However, a trial by OraSure found that in the hands of consumers, the test is only 92 percent accurate in identifying carriers of the virus.
“I do not agree with the home HIV test. This is a serious virus and people should rely on the legitimacy of a doctor-ordered test,” said Abby Katt, certified nursing assistant at Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community. “I do not think that people who believe they may be HIV-positive would be any more willing to take a home test than a doctor-ordered one.”
Michels said in a July 5 Medical News Today article that this home test would be a “major breakthrough.” However, only time will tell if people respond positively to it.
“I believe this product will become very useful to people who are intimidated coming to a professional setting to get their test done,” said Molly Curtis, a nurse technician in Overland Park, Kan. “This is very much like a home pregnancy test. They are both set up for someone trying to get a quick response. After finding out the results, you can go to the doctor and find out what your next step is.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 60,000 new cases of HIV infection each year and estimate that 1.2 million people are currently living with the disease in the United States. OraQuick is one measure among others that might help prevent the spread of the virus.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is trying to make HIV testing a standardized part of routine checkups, just like getting cholesterol levels tested. There are hopes that making the test a routine procedure would reduce the stigma attached to it.
“I absolutely think that HIV should become a routine test,” Katt said. “It will help people become more aware of the virus.”