This week the FDA announced the approval of a home based HIV test that will allow patient to test themselves in private for HIV infection through a saliva based test. Using a mouth swab, the OraQuick test will give results in under one hour. The hope is that this will increase the likelihood of early diagnosis and treatment of patients with HIV infection
Since first being recognized almost 30 years ago, HIV/AIDs has evolved from an explosive epidemic with a near 100% fatality rate to a serious, but manageable, chronic infection. Early diagnosis and treatment leads to both better health outcomes and a lower risk of disease transmission to others. There are now patients who have lived normal and healthy lives for almost two decades.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus associated with the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and is acquired through the transmission of body fluids such as blood and semen. It is not spread by casual contact, but rather through sexual intercourse, or the injection of illegal substances into the blood with shared needles.
Once the virus is in the system, symptoms may develop within months. The first manifestations are non-specific including fever, rash, muscle aches and joint pains. As the immune system deteriorates, persistent fevers, diarrhea, weight loss and a skin rash may appear. Over time, serious life threatening infections such as pneumonia or sepsis can be seen.
Like any lab test, the new home based test is not perfect. 1 in 5000 patients who do not have HIV will get a positive test; 1 in 12 with HIV will get a negative test. Therefore, every positive test MUST be followed up by a visit to a physician in order to confirm the diagnosis with a blood test. Patients with negative tests who have risk factors for HIV (high risk sexual activity and intravenous drug use) should follow up with further tests in 3 months, and consider regular testing if the risk behavior continues.
The home test will likely cost around $25. The FDA approval was for people 17 years of age and older, so an ID will be required to purchase the kit at retail outlets.
It is important for all of us to realize that AIDs, like the common cold, measles and chicken pox, is a viral infection. There is no “stigma” to the disease, no need to isolate patients from work or communal events, and no need to avoid shaking hands or hugging. This new product is another step in “normalizing” HIV and treating it as another serious, but treatable, long term illness.