At-Home HIV Testing
- Also Known As:
- HIV Self-Test
- HIV Home Test
Test Quick Guide
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. As an HIV infection progresses, it increases the risk of cancer and life-threatening infections. In the United States, HIV is primarily spread through sex or sharing of needles with a person infected with HIV.
At-home HIV testing checks the blood or oral fluid for antigens and/or antibodies that are produced in response to the virus. At-home HIV testing is a form of screening that requires follow-up testing if test results are positive.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of at-home HIV testing is to determine whether a person is likely to have HIV. Positive results warrant confirmatory testing in a medical laboratory.
What does the test measure?
At-home HIV tests don’t look for the virus itself. Instead, they look for either antibodies alone or both antigens and antibodies. If these substances are detected, the test returns a positive result for HIV.
Antibodies are produced by the body in response to HIV infection. At-home tests that look for antibodies alone detect these substances in the blood or oral fluid. It can take several weeks after an HIV infection for the body to produce antibodies, so these tests can detect HIV 12 weeks after infection.
Antigens are substances that the body recognizes as foreign and activate an immune response. Testing for both antigens and antibodies at home requires a blood sample taken from a fingerstick. Because antigens appear before the body produces antibodies, HIV tests that look for both antigens and antibodies can detect an HIV infection within only 2 to 4 weeks of becoming infected.
Benefits and Downsides of At-Home HIV Testing
At-home testing is distinct from testing in a medical office or laboratory. Accordingly, it has specific benefits and risks.
Benefits of at-home testing include:
- Convenience: You can do the test on your own time and without having to set up an appointment or travel to a medical facility.
- Simplicity: Test kits are designed to make the process straightforward and easy to do in your own home.
- Transparent pricing: Because you do the sample collection yourself, there are no copays or unexpected technician fees for at-home tests.
Downsides of at-home testing include:
- Confirmatory tests needed: Although generally accurate, at-home tests are not the final word. Test results, especially for HIV-positive results, need to be confirmed with an additional laboratory test.
- Potential for errors in sample collection: While kits offer detailed instructions, the safeguards that exist to prevent errors and contamination in a specialized lab are not present in your home environment.
- Results without a doctor’s guidance: With an at-home test, you won’t have your doctor immediately on hand to explain what the results mean for your health.
- Varying test quality: Not all tests are created equal, and some tests may be more likely to return inaccurate results.
- Not covered by insurance: You typically have to pay for at-home tests out-of-pocket and without insurance coverage.
- Not available in all states: Regulatory requirements limit the availability of some types of at-home tests in certain U.S. states.
Types of At-Home Tests
Several companies offer at-home HIV testing. The following sections detail our picks for the best at-home HIV tests.
OraQuick – In-Home HIV Test
Sample: Oral fluid
Tests for: HIV antibodies
Results timeline: 20 minutes
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is a safe and approved method of testing for HIV from the privacy of your home. With over 20 million tests sold, it has been recommended by health care professionals for more than 15 years. Test kits are available on the OraQuick website and at other authorized online and physical retailers.
Taking the in-home HIV test is as simple as it gets. Gently swipe a test stick along your upper and lower gums, then insert it into a test tube. After 20 minutes, you can read the results on the testing device using straightforward, step-by-step instructions.
OraQuick’s product is the only at-home oral HIV test that is approved by the FDA. Oral fluid HIV tests are typically very accurate. In studies, the OraQuick test correctly detected 91.7% of people who were infected with HIV and 99.9% of people who were not infected with the virus.
The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is FDA-approved for people 17 and older. It detects antibodies, which are blood proteins created by the body to fight an HIV infection. The test can detect antibodies three months after a risk event.
If you decide to try the OraQuick product, remember that a positive test result does not necessarily mean that you are infected with HIV. Rather, it means that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the result.
If you need support when taking this test, the OraQuick website has an extensive Q&A section. For more personal assistance, the company offers a 24/7 call center with support in both English and Spanish.
Everlywell – HIV Test
Tests for: HIV antibodies, Antigens, P24
Results timeline: Within 5 business days
The Everlywell HIV Test includes confirmation testing and free consultation with an independent physician in the case of positive test results.
The testing kit is available on the Everlywell website and is shipped in discreet packaging. Just register your kit on the company’s website and follow the instructions to collect a few drops of blood from your fingertip. Postage is free both ways, making it easy to return your test sample.
Once your sample is received by Everlywell’s labs, results are usually available within five business days. You’ll be notified when your results are ready through the company’s secure online platform.
Everlywell’s fourth-generation test is more than 99% accurate and can detect an HIV infection 18 to 90 days after a risk event. The company offers a steep discount on testing if you sign up for Control, its monthly subscription service.
Fastest Blood Test Results
myLAB Box – HIV Home Test
Tests for: HIV antibodies, Antigens, P24
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
The HIV Home Test from myLAB Box offers fast delivery and quick results. After an order is placed on the company’s website, it is processed and shipped within 24 hours. Once you collect and mail your sample to one of myLAB Box’s partner labs, test results are available in 2 to 5 days.
The at-home HIV test uses a self-collected sample of blood. Using a retractable needle called a lancet, prick your fingertip and place a few drops of blood on a special card provided in the test kit. Then enclose your sample in self-addressed and prepaid packaging and ship it to an accredited lab for testing.
Once your sample arrives at the lab, results are typically available within a few days through your HIPAA-secure online account. Test results are more than 99.9% accurate.
In the case of positive results, myLAB Box offers free post-test consultations by professional STD counselors and physicians via telemedicine.
Best Panel Test That Includes HIV
LetsGetChecked – Standard 5
Sample: Blood, Urine
Tests for: HIV (I, II, P24 antigen), Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Trichomoniasis
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
LetsGetChecked’s most popular STD test is the Standard 5, a panel that can detect five of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. This panel checks all the boxes: discreet packaging, quick results, 1-on-1 support, and even medication for chlamydia and trichomoniasis at no extra cost. The kit is available on the LetsGetChecked website and includes free shipping.
The Standard 5 test kit provides all the supplies needed to collect samples of blood and urine. After washing your hands and wiping them with an alcohol pad, prick your finger with a lancet and collect your blood sample in the tube provided. Urine samples should be collected in the morning, before taking a shower, in a small collection tube.
Samples can be shipped free of charge to LetsGetChecked’s network of laboratories that have met standards for CLIA certification and ISO accreditation. Test results are available on a secure online dashboard in 2 to 5 days.
Keep in mind that many STDs can be asymptomatic, which means you may not realize you have an infection unless you get tested.
Interpreting At-Home Test Results
Results from at-home testing will show that antigens and/or antibodies for HIV were either detected or undetected. If they were detected, this is considered a positive test result.
As with any medical test, it’s important to be cautious when interpreting results. The best way to review any test result or health concern is by talking with your doctor.
Essential considerations related to the results of at-home HIV testing include:
- Positive tests require follow-up testing: A second test conducted in a laboratory is necessary if an initial screening test, such as an at-home test, is positive.
- Tests don’t detect recent HIV exposure: Depending on the type of test, it can take 2-12 weeks for an infected person to test positive. For this reason, a negative result does not rule out an infection with HIV if the test is taken soon after potential exposure.
- Tests should not guide behavior: High-risk behavior should be avoided regardless of whether a test result is positive or negative.
- Regular screening may be necessary: People with multiple or recurring exposures to HIV need repeat screenings that account for the time between exposure and the development of antibodies and/or antigens that can be detected on tests.
- Testing may make you anxious: Taking a test and getting results may cause worry or anxiety. Consider talking with a doctor, mental health professional, or support organization to get help with the emotional impacts of testing.
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. HIV/AIDS. Updated June 15, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000594.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV self-testing. Updated March 25, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/hiv-self-tests.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of HIV tests. Updated March 29, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/test-types.html
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. HIV screening test. Updated March 3, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/hiv-screening-test/
Saks PE. Screening and diagnostic testing for HIV infection. In: Hirsch MS, ed. UpToDate. Updated September 9, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/screening-and-diagnostic-testing-for-hiv-infection
US Food and Drug Administration. Facts about in-home HIV testing. Updated June 25, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/facts-about-home-hiv-testing
US Food and Drug Administration. OraQuick in-home HIV test. Updated January 30, 2020. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/approved-blood-products/oraquick-home-hiv-test