Should you consider an HIV home test? 

From the earliest days of HIV testing in clinics, the topic of home testing has been something of a hot potato. On the one hand, it goes without saying that if anyone is HIV positive, it is vital for them to know about it as quickly as possible so that they can get the right treatment. 

On the other, there have always been question marks over the accuracy and reliability of home tests, and the potential impact of someone finding out that they are HIV positive in this way.  

Increasing availability of HIV home tests 

The first oral testing kit for HIV was licensed for use back in 2014, and between then and now there has been an increase in the range of home HIV test choices appearing both on the shelves in shops and for purchase online. Home tests are designed to be quick and easy to use – all you have to do is take either a blood sample from a finger prick or a saliva sample with a swab, and wait 15-20 minutes for the result.  

Home tests and postal tests 

It is important to note that these home tests are not the same as postal tests. The latter have been around for much longer, and simply involve you self-sampling, ie taking a blood or saliva sample, and then sending it off to a hospital or laboratory for testing. This is no different to the common practice with dropping other bodily samples off at a lab for testing.  

The importance of early diagnosis 

It is well-known that these days, being diagnosed HIV-positive is not the death sentence that it was seen to be a quarter of a century ago. While there is no cure per se, there are highly effective treatments that can control and manage the symptoms, allowing those who have tested positive to lead long, healthy and rewarding lives.  

The problem that we still face, however, is that you can be HIV positive for a long time with absolutely no outward symptoms. This, along with the fact that some people still feel that there is some sort of stigma attached to being HIV positive, means that the condition can easily go undetected for a long time.  

The treatments we mentioned earlier are all at their most effective if they are implemented early, and the tragedy is that in a third of cases, people do not find out that they are HIV positive until it is too late to take effective action. 

Home tests save lives 

Taking a home HIV test is a serious matter, and needs to be done carefully and with clarity of thought. Make sure you use an approved test that has been CE certified, and run through a mental plan of action with yourself before you take the test, so that you are absolutely clear about what you will do next, whether the result is positive or negative.  

If at all possible, have a loved one by your side when you take the test. Alternatively, charitable organisations such as the Terence Higgins Trust provide a great support network.