What is a Rapid HIV Test?

New HIV Test Kit Gives Results In 20 Minutes. Getty Images / Getty Images News

An Overview of HIV Testing

The HIV epidemic has changed a great deal in the decades since the virus was discovered. Although AIDS was initially considered a death sentence, that is true no longer. With proper treatment, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives. However, proper treatment requires proper testing. Universal HIV testing has been recommended for years, but implementation has been sluggish.

The stigma surrounding HIV, means that many people are afraid to get tested. Not realizing that this is a disease that can be treated and lived with, they'd rather not know they're infected. Doctors are also to blame. Many do a poor job of regularly recommending testing to all patients. Unfortunately, targeting people to be perceived as high risk isn't nearly as useful as getting everyone appropriately screened and into care

In some situations, rapid testing can help increase both test coverage and follow-up. In 2002 the FDA approved the first rapid test for HIV. More rapid tests quickly followed. These tests can give people results in as little as 20 minutes.There's no need to wait for a phone call or come back in for a second visit. Results come in in less time than many people wait to see their doctors in the first place. Some rapid HIV tests use only a saliva sample and don't even need a blood draw.

This combination of factors seems to make rapid testing less intimidating. People are much more likely to accept a rapid test than a regular one.

The Benefits of Rapid HIV Testing

One of the disadvantages of standard testing models is that people have to come back for results. That's not only extremely stressful.

It can also lead to missed opportunities to care. It can be difficult to get some people to come back for test results. In some cases, it can even be difficult to contact them! That's where the benefits of rapid testing become apparent. If you can give someone their results the same day they come in, you can start treating them right away. You're not going to lose them to follow-up or miss a chance to get them care.

Why Rapid Testing for HIV Isn't Always Available

There are some disadvantages to rapid testing. It is not always as sensitive as traditional testing. This means it may not pick up as many new infections - leading to false negatives. Rapid test results may also require follow-up testing, depending on the test used and the circumstances.

For these reasons, and others, not all doctors stock rapid tests. If you are looking for rapid HIV testing, it may be worth calling your doctors office to see if they have these tests available. If they don't, you may have better luck at a local STD clinic.

You can also find a list of HIV test sites at https://gettested.cdc.gov/. However, not all of these sites will offer rapid testing.

Rapid HIV Testing is the Beginning - Not the End

Rapid testing is an important tool in slowing the spread of HIV. Early diagnosis and treatment helps keep people healthy. It also helps prevent new infections. However, testing alone isn't enough.

Getting positive people into treatment as quickly as possible is critical. It's one of the biggest advantage of using rapid tests. However, these tests can also have a downside. The cheapest and easiest way to implement them is to eliminate HIV risk-reduction counseling. When that happens, it's a shame. For years, HIV testing has represented an important opportunity to discuss safe sex techniques and smart decision making. Losing that means losing a critical intervention to reduce risk. Treatment as prevention is all well and good. It's just even better when combined with helping people make smart decisions, and life-long behavioral changes, about sex.


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