Many of us keep condoms on hand to prevent transmitting sexually transmitted diseases and infections. What about keeping an HIV test on deck? 

Today, June 27, marks National HIV Testing Day which draws special attention to the devastating statistics of HIV/AIDS and the importance of testing in all communities to help prevent the spread of the disease.

So what’s new within the past year? It’s the ability to test ourselves right in the privacy of our own homes. Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first oral in-home HIV test by OraSure Technologies, Inc. called OraQuick In-Home Oral HIV Test which involves rubbing a swab on your gumline where there are tiny blood vessels; it is not detecting HIV in saliva. OraQuick guarantees results within 20-40 minutes. The test can be done in private without the aid of a health professional. OraQuick sells for about $40, is available online and in pharmacies this month, and is only approved for those 17 and older.

Why do a home test?

-Of the 1.2 million people with HIV in this country, about 20% – 1 out of every 5 persons – with HIV does not know their status according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

-There is still a stigma attached to the disease. A home test can normalize testing (which has proven effective for home pregnancy tests).

-The sooner someone knows their HIV status AND gets into treatment, the longer they will potentially live a productive life – up to 20 additional years of life in many cases depending on the time of diagnosis.

-For a person with HIV/AIDS, starting treatment lowers the chance that they will spread the disease or transmit it to someone else by as much as 96% according to a study conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network.

How accurate is it?

OraQuick does a very good job at correctly detecting those who are negative (considered a non-reactive test) for HIV/AIDS with an accuracy of 99.98% according to the FDA. But it’s important to note there is a three-month timeframe in which a person may have HIV/AIDS, but in which her or his body has not yet developed enough antibodies to get a positive test. So if you are tested during this period, you may inaccurately test negatively. This is why regular testing is critical.

As for correctly detecting someone that is positive for HIV/AIDS, the accuracy is slightly less at 92% (FDA). This means that about one OraQuick test out of every 12 may fail to identify a person who has HIV/AIDS. Despite this, the FDA and many in the public health community agree that OraQuick offers a self-directed tool that will be useful in more people knowing their HIV/AIDS status. 

So what if the test result is reactive? If it is reactive, know that this is what is called a preliminarily positive. All preliminary positive results must be followed up by a confirmatory test called the Western Blot. If you can access to your healthcare provider, call them. Also, OraQuick provides a 24/7 customer support call center that can answer questions and refer you to a health provider in your area to follow up with. Please know there is support.

While saying “Pass the HIV Test” may not feel comfortable or normal now, the conversation about HIV/AIDS testing should become an important part of our lives. 

YOU have the power to prevent getting HIV/AIDS or spreading HIV/AIDS. Start a conversation, ask questions, and get tested. The choice is yours, the power is yours.

Dr. Aletha Maybank is a Board Certified physician in both Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAlethaMaybank