As of October, consumers are at last empowered to test themselves at home for HIV infection. The OraQuick in-home HIV test, available online and at 30,000 local pharmacies, costs about $36 and yields results in as little as 20 minutes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for consumer use in July.
The FDA hopes a sizable percentage of the estimated 240,000 Americans who are at risk but don't know they are infected will take the test. If they do test positive, they can seek treatment and modify their behavior to reduce the chance of infecting others.
About 50,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clinical studies have found that the OraQuick test, which uses a check swab, produces one false positive out of 5,000 tests. But about one in 12 people who have HIV will receive a false negative, largely because some people do not produce enough HIV antibodies to detect until three months after infection. Thus testing soon after risky encounters might give consumers a false sense of security, delaying treatment and increasing the risk of infecting others.