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2005-10-14-US considers rapid home HIV test
The US is considering approving the first rapid home testing kit for HIV.
An individual would be able to tell within 20 minutes whether they had the infection or not, in the privacy of their own home.
Many have expressed fears that people who find out in this way may kill themselves and hence testing should be supervised and counselled face to face.
Home HIV testing kits are banned in the UK for such reasons. However, some buy unapproved kits over the internet.
The US Food and Drugs Administration has already approved one other home HIV test. However, this requires the individual to send off a dried blood spot on special paper, from a finger prick, to a lab to be analysed.
The person then calls a free telephone number and gives their confidential and anonymous personal identification number to get the result and receive post-test counselling at the same time.
In comparison, the new OraQuick test, which is now sold only to US doctors and clinics, gives an instant result in the home after 20 minutes using a mouth swab.
Quick home test
Much like shop-bought pregnancy tests, a single control line indicates a negative result, meaning signs of infection with the virus have not been detected.
Two lines means infection has been found and the person is positive for HIV.
The benefits are that more people could easily find out their HIV status anonymously, hopefully leading to earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment, which can improve survival.
However, there is concern that people testing on their own may misinterpret a result or may not cope well with finding out that they are positive without having access to live counselling.
A leaflet containing written information about counselling would be included with the test.
A small number of results may be false, meaning some who think they are free of HIV following the test are not and others who think they have the virus actually do not.
Although it would be important for anyone who has a positive test result to see their doctor afterwards to confirm the finding and find out what care and support they need, some fear individuals may not seek this assistance.
The FDA is asking its advisory committee to consider such issues before it reaches a decision about whether OraSure's test should be sold in pharmacies over the counter.
Some believe the UK should rethink its stance on home HIV testing kits .
Lisa Power, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust said: "We're watching this with great interest.
"We support a change in UK law to allow and regulate home testing for HIV, but we need a test which combines sensitivity and simplicity.
"Currently, many people in the UK buy illegal home test kits for HIV over the internet and these are often of low quality and can give false results."
A spokeswoman from Avert said: "If it goes ahead and increases the number of people being tested then that is a good thing.
"But we have to be cautious. There has been great concern about the risk of suicide if people find out on their own without enough support.
"HIV is not the death sentence that is used to be so fear should be less than it has been."
She said that it would be crucial that people using the test received adequate support.
"People need to be encouraged to see their doctor after to get a confirmatory test and also to get advice on how to proceed and what care they need throughout their illness."
She said if it went ahead in the US and the benefits did outweigh any risks then the UK should consider following suit.