11 things to expect from an HIV home-test
HIV home-testing kits are available in a growing number of countries. They offer you the convenience of taking an HIV test in your own time and in the privacy of your own home – but are they for everyone?
Stigma around HIV, concerns about the attitudes of health workers and worries about what a positive result would mean are all barriers to us taking a test. But knowing your HIV status is the best way to keep yourself and other people healthy.
So the privacy and control that home testing can provide should mean it’s a more attractive option for some people. Here are some questions to think about when deciding if a home test is for you.
1. What exactly is an HIV home-test?
There are two kinds of HIV tests you can do at home.
HIV postal test: with this kind of test you take a sample (of blood or saliva) and send it to a laboratory. Your result is then provided by text message or telephone call from a healthcare worker.
HIV self-testing: this is when you take a sample yourself and also receive an immediate result. You don’t send any sample to a laboratory: instead, you read the result yourself from the testing kit.
2. What does a home-test involve?
Using the test contents provided, you clean your chosen finger, prick it with one of the lancets, and collect some blood – either in a tube for postal testing, or onto a testing strip for self-testing (exact steps may vary, so check instructions).
3. How reliable is an HIV home-test?
Licensed HIV tests that have been approved by national authorities are very reliable. On rare occasions they will produce a positive result which is then found to be negative - known as a false positive test result.
If you receive a positive result from your home test you should go to an HIV clinic as soon as possible for a confirmation test.
If you have taken a postal test you will be invited to your nearest clinic when you receive your result. If you have taken a self-test the kit should include information about contacting your local clinic.
Remember that it may take up to three months from the time of infection for traces of HIV to show up in an HIV test. The kit will provide you with more specific information about this ‘window period’.
4. Which fingers are best to collect your sample from?
The best fingers for collecting samples are generally your middle ones. But remember you may need to use more than one finger.
5. Is it painful?
Most kits use a lancet. You put it on the tip of your finger and press firmly so that it pricks the skin. It’s not as painful as it sounds – just like a dull pin prick.
6. How do I take the blood sample?
By massaging the side of the finger you pricked, you can form a new drop of blood which you should collect in the tube (or on the strip). If your finger is moist it could stop the blood from forming drops, so keep it dry with an alcohol wipe or a clean tissue.
Continue massaging to encourage more blood. Make sure you don’t squeeze your finger as this will stop the blood flow. Massaging blood out of your finger might sound a bit scary – but it really doesn’t hurt at all.
7. How much blood will I need?
Kits will vary but may well ask for around 8 drops of blood. It might take a bit of perseverance to get as much blood as you need – but standing up and swinging your arm might help increase the blood flow. And you can prick more than one finger if you need!
8. How long does a home test take?
Home-test kits are simple to use and should include straightforward and easy-to-follow instructions. The whole procedure takes around 15 minutes to complete. If you have a postal test, you should post the sample as soon as you can. It’s important to get the sample back to a lab quickly.
9. How long will I have to wait for the result?
This will vary depending on the type of test. Self-testing kits will usually give a result within 20 minutes. Postal tests will generally SMS or call you with the result, usually within a few days.
10. Who can I talk to if I’m worried?
It’s always good to have someone you trust on hand to talk through your emotions and worries while you wait for the result. You might also want to have a trusted friend there with you when you get your results back.
If you take a postal test and your result is positive, in most countries when you are informed of your result you will also be put in touch with an HIV clinic in your area.
11. Other ways to get tested
If you’ve read this and think that home-testing is not for you, remember there are lots of places where you can get a confidential HIV test, with people on hand to provide help and support.
And remember, it’s always better to know your HIV status. Whether your result is negative or positive, it will mean you can move on with your life, and start treatment if you need to. It will ultimately help protect your health and the health of the people around you.