HIV Test using Rapid Testing

While blood tests are the most reliable and accurate method of detecting the presence of  HIV (the human immune deficiency virus responsible for AIDS), there are now a number of faster testing methods designed to give a diagnosis on the spot. Traditional blood tests can take as long as 3 months to provide a result, which can be quite trying for someone worried about whether or not they are carrying a life changing disease. As such rapid tests can be very useful, however their use does carry with it some caveats that need noticing.

What Rapid Tests are available?

There are a number of different rapid HIV tests available at the moment:

  • Orasure – is a test that tests for antibodies against HIV, and samples mucosal tissue from the cheeks and gums.
  • iDiagnostics Rapid HIV Test – Is a home test that is available for HIV rapid testing, however it is not approved by the Federal Drug Authority (FDA), and therefore its reliability and accuracy are not established. This tests works by examining blood or urine samples and can provide a result in 15 minutes.
  • Uni-Gold – can offer a result in about 10 minutes and is approved by the FDA for the testing of HIV-1.
  • Home Access Express HIV-1 – is FDA approved for home use and works by examining a few drops of blood from a small device called a finger stick (pierces the skin on your finger slightly to yield a small amount of blood). With this kit however the sample is sent to a laboratory for examination, which makes it more reliable than 10-15 minute testing equivalent.

Other rapid tests are being developed and the hope is that in the near future there will be accurate and reliable methods of detecting HIV without the need for a long waiting time.

Caveats of HIV Rapid Testing

When it comes to accurately testing for HIV an important consideration is the ‘window period’, a length of time after exposure to the virus during which HIV can’t be accurately detected with existing testing methods.

Many HIV testing methods, including rapid tests, are based on the detection of antibodies which our body generates to defend against the virus. For most of us, it will take somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks for these antibodies to be present in high enough quantities for accurate detection. When using rapid testing methods this is an important consideration, otherwise the results can either be a ‘false negative’ (where the test inaccurately reports that there is no virus) or a ‘false positive’ (where the test incorrectly reports the presence of the virus).

At present rapid tests are not as reliable or accurate as laboratory based antibody and antigen testing techniques like the Western Blot or the ELISA. They do however provide a useful quick check provided that the window period has been taken into account. The results of a rapid test should always be confirmed by traditional blood tests, and you should always talk to your doctor if you are concerned about HIV or are thinking about having a screen performed.

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