If you’re sexually active, regular HIV testing is the only way to definitively know your status. However, it’s not always easy to get to a clinic, or you may be worried about your privacy or safety in an HIV testing setting.
In some places, it’s possible to receive an HIV test kit you can complete on your own at home. Self-test kits are not quite as accurate as HIV tests you might receive at a clinic, but self-testing is better than not testing at all. If for any reason you can’t or won’t get an HIV test with a health care provider, this is the next best thing.
Most home HIV tests take between 23 and 90 days to accurately detect HIV. During this time, it is possible to test negative for HIV but actually be HIV-positive. It’s important to test during and after this window period to determine your HIV status. The materials included with your test package will tell you the timeframe where HIV antibodies can be detected. If you feel you have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, talk to a health care provider about post-exposure prophylaxis right away.
There are currently two ways of testing for HIV at home. The first is a test kit where you use a swab to collect a saliva sample and see immediate test results at home. The second way involves taking a blood sample at home and sending it off to a lab for processing. Building Healthy Online Communities has more specific information about these tests here.
If your test results say that you’re HIV-positive, follow up with a health care provider who can provide a more sensitive test to confirm your home test results. Sometimes, an HIV test can give a false positive result, so it is always best to have a health care provider test you again. If they confirm your positive test result, your provider can help you start treatment and connect you to other support services. If you get a negative test result, make sure to continue regular HIV testing to know your status. You may also want to talk to a health care provider about starting PrEP, a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.
Currently, home test kits are easily available in Europe and the U.S. Find out which HIV home test kit options are available for you here. If using a home test kit isn’t right for you, find your nearest HIV testing site here.