A U.S. government study found that mailing home HIV tests to high-risk men, free of charge, is a better method in diagnosing infections than the typical standard of care.
The experiment involved mailing half of the 2,600 men, who were recruited from music and social media websites, four free testing kits with the potential to order more. Many of these men did and shared the test. The other half received a link to local testing services sites.
There were 25 infections found in the group that self-tested themselves compared to just 11 in the other group. 34 infections were seen in friends of the group that shared their tests.
More than 70 percent of those who learned they were positive went for treatment.
While other studies looked at the benefits of home STD/HIV testing, this is the latest to address an Internet-based effort using the mail-order option.
According to lead author and CDC researcher Robin MacGowan, self-testing is extremely important for some people and in certain situations. It saves them on time, gives them privacy and expands to more people who can’t or won’t seek testing services, she said.
The CDC paid, came up with the study and carried it out.
There are more than one million Americans who have HIV, which is the virus that will lead to AIDS. Over two-thirds of the new cases are in men who have sexual relations with other men. And, one in six men is not aware they have the infection.
In 2015, the CDC launched the study, three years of the approval of the OraQuick saliva test, which is the first over-the-counter HIV test for home use. The study involved using the saliva test along with a finger stick blood test that were sent to a lab.
The prices for the OraQuick saliva test range from $35 to $50 a kit.
Men were not advised how often they needed to test, but the average is five tests a year in the home-test group compared to just two in the other group. The majority of self-testers reported they tested at least three times.
Participants were given $90 for their efforts, but only if they reported their test results and did various surveys.
Many states have begun offering free-self testing HIV kits – New York, California, Arizona.
Arizona began its program in 2018, with over 2,800 kits being mailed or handed out at pharmacies with the use of vouchers.
According to the nonprofit foundation that operates the program, it’s too soon to know if the program’s effect has impacted HIV rates. However, the program has noted there were six people who tested positive and are receiving care. The program survey asks which method of testing people prefer – at home or in-person.
According to a journal editorial, the U.S. rate of HIV diagnosis has been stable since 2013 (there has been no decrease in the numbers). However, with self-testing as well as HIV prevention drugs for at-risk individuals, the chances of eradicating the disease could quicken.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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