On Tuesday, the FDA approved a rapid HIV test that allows Americans to learn if they have the disease at home within 40 minutes.
The OraQuick test uses saliva samples and gives results within 20 to 40 minutes. Similar to a pregnancy test, one line shows up if the test is negative, two lines means a positive test. Previous over-the-counter technology required that users prick their fingers and send a blood sample to a lab.
A positive result for HIV does not mean having AIDS, and so users should see a health care professional for further testing. A negative result may not mean negative for sure, as the accuracy of the test is still unclear.
As using antiretroviral drugs lowers an infected patient’s risk of transmission as much as 96%, testing and treatment have become key to HIV prevention. Experts say the easy-to-use and accessible test is a positive step forward in containing the epidemic.
The FDA approval not only encourages more people to get tested and prevent transmission, but also reflects a move towards normalization of HIV, a disease so long feared and misunderstood by the public. In the 1980s, AIDS was stereotyped as the “gay” or drug addict disease. With few methods of treatment, the disease was also often fatal. Such stigmas and deadliness made people fear diagnosis. Today, about 1 in 5 of the estimated 1.2 million infected Americans do not know they have the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 500,000 more become infected with the disease.
The test, now approved for people 17 and older, should be found in 30,000 pharmacies, grocery stores, and online stores by October, reports the New York Times. While the price has not yet been determined, it will be more expensive than the current $17.50 charged to medical professionals because of packaging costs, setup of a 24-hour resource phoneline, and advertisements to high-risk groups. But it will be kept relatively inexpensive to encourage testing.
While the details have to be sorted out, the OraQuick test is a symbolic win in the effort to prevent the spread of AIDS. Having access to an easy-to-use test at home will lead to more diagnoses and faster, more effective treatment.