The Food and Drug Administration approved a new test that will allow Americans to test themselves for the HIV infection in their own homes for the first time. OraSure Technologies’ OraQuick test gains results from a mouth swab in 20-40 minutes. Previous home tests involved needles and mailing dried blood to a lab. The new technology is a “positive step forward” toward controlling the decades-old epidemic, says National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.
According to the New York Times, a person’s chance of transferring the still-incurable disease lowers by up to 96% if they are on antiretroviral drugs. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.2 million Americans don’t know they have HIV, with approximately 50,000 more getting infected every year.
To combat this trend, the first blood tests for the virus were developed in 1984 to much praise. Home tests have been requested since 1987, but the idea has always been controversial. Many groups discouraged testing in the 1980s, as participation amounted to being publicly outed as homosexual or an intravenous drug user. Other concerns such as mass suicides and overflowing clinics due to positive results delayed the idea further. OraSure’s test has itself undergone FDA scrutiny since 2005.
Mark Harrington, of the Treatment Action Group, believes those fears are “a thing of the past,” now that early treatment is proven to save lives. “Any tool that speeds up diagnosis is really needed,” he stated.
The test isn’t perfect—as it is now, and around 1 person in 12 might get a false positive result. The FDA notes that positive tests should be confirmed by a doctor, and that individuals engaged in risky sexual activity should get tested on a regular basis.
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