Testing HIV from home: How reliable are the tests?

An at-home HIV test. (KOKH)

Some health officials in Oklahoma say there is an uptick in HIV cases in the state, and now there is a push to remind people that prevention is key to staying healthy. Fox 25 looked at the latest popular way people are opting to get tested, and get their status at home.

The tests do work, but experts say there are important things you need to know before opting for the at-home test over heading to the nearest testing site.

Frank Thompson says he has been HIV positive for 15 years. He remembers what it was like to get the news in 2000.

"It was a shock. A very, very strong shock to me," said Thompson.

He knew it was not a death sentence anymore, but that did not change the way he felt.

"I was ashamed. I was ashamed to tell my family. I was ashamed to tell my friends I cried. Every time I had to say it, I cried," said Thompson.

Thompson said he found out through a health care provider, and thinks there are some serious considerations to be made before getting tested at home.

"I think it's a double edged sword. I feel from my experience that you need somebody there," said Thompson.

The latest numbers indicate that 330 of every 100,000 people in Oklahoma County are living with HIV or Aids according to AidsVU, an online database put together by Emory University,

Mary Arbuckle with Other Options, one of the oldest HIV/AIDS organizations in the country, told Fox 25 there seems to be a slight increase in the number of cases she's worked lately.

"People think, 'Oh it is no big deal, I just have to take a pill,' but it is life changing," said Arbuckle.

She thinks the at home tests can be helpful; especially for people living in rural Oklahoma where testing sites can be hours away.

"This makes it very available to somebody that lives in maybe Guymon Oklahoma where there is no place to go. They can order it online. They can pick it up at the drug store," said Arbuckle.

Fox 25 purchased one of those easily available tests from a drug store. This particular one cost less than fifty dollars. The test has an anti-theft device on it, and a Fox 25 employee was asked for identification before being able to make the purchase. The drugstore employee said that a person has to be at least 17 years old to purchase an at-home HIV test.

It is an oral swab and says it will give you results in 20 minutes.

Terry Dennison with Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma talked about one of the biggest problems with all at-home tests.

"It doesn't have a high reliability. So, if you get a positive result, you need to have a confirmatory test and that can be a pretty stressful experience," said Dennison.

Directions also indicated that the test can only check for an incident if it happened three months in the past.

"If it comes back negative -- if you have been exposed within the last three months-- you should take another test three months later," said Dennison.

Other things that can affect the reliability of the test include eating or brushing your teeth too soon before taking it, or if the test has been exposed to any cleaning products.

Bottom line, according to experts, is these at home tests are a step forward in access, but you need to read the directions carefully, follow them exactly, and check the test's expiration date.

The general recommendation is still to see a health care professional. In many cases it is free or low cost and confidential. There are several locations in the OKC Metro area that can help.

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