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HIV self-testing (home testing)

It is now possible in many countries to test yourself for HIV, for example at home. Some people prefer the privacy and ease of this rather than going to a healthcare provider.

You’ll receive instructions on how to take a tiny drop of blood or saliva (spit) and test this sample. Depending on the type of self-test, you’ll either get the result in 20 minutes or a few days later.

What is an HIV self-test (home test)?

It’s a kit that you can use to test yourself for HIV at home or elsewhere. There are two kinds:

  1. HIV postal test (self-sampling)

You take a sample (of blood or saliva) and post it to a laboratory. You will get your result by text (SMS) message or telephone call from a healthcare worker.

  1. HIV self-testing

You take a sample and don’t send it to a laboratory: instead, you read the result yourself from the testing kit.

Where can I get an HIV self-test kit?

If they are available in your country, you can order them online or ask your healthcare provider for one. Self-testing hasn’t been approved everywhere, so check online to see if it is available where you are.

When can I do an HIV self-test? How long is the window period?

If you have HIV, it will show up on an HIV self-testing kit if it has been at least three months since you were exposed. This three-month period where HIV may be present but not detected is also called a window period. Because the length of the window period is three months for HIV self-testing kits, you must wait this long to get an accurate result.

How do you do an HIV self-test?

The testing kits are designed to be easy to use and always come with instructions. Some kits need a blood sample and others need a saliva sample.

  1. Blood sample

You put the lancet on the tip of your finger and press firmly so that it pricks the skin. It’s not as painful as it sounds – just like a dull pin prick. You then massage the side of the finger to form a drop of blood and either test it or send it to a laboratory.

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  1. Saliva sample

You rub the swab over your upper gums once and then your lower gums once to collect a fluid sample. You then put the swab in the test tube and either test it or send it to a laboratory.

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How long will the result take?

If you use a self-testing kit, you will usually get a result within 20 minutes.

If you use a postal test, you will receive your result within a few days.

What happens after I read or get the result?

If the result is negative, you do not have HIV.

If the result is positive, it must be checked again. Contact your local healthcare provider and tell them the result of your HIV self-test. They will test you for HIV again to confirm the result.

If you are positive, your healthcare provider will be able to start you on antiretroviral treatment straight away. This will keep the virus under control and help you stay healthy.

Getting your HIV test results

Is an HIV self-test reliable?

Licensed HIV tests that have been approved by national authorities are very reliable. On rare occasions they will produce a positive result which is then found to be negative. This is called a false positive test result. This is why all positive results must be checked again.

Who can I talk to if I’m worried?

If your result is positive, you will be put in touch with a local healthcare provider.

You might also want to talk to a trusted friend so that you can share your emotions and any worries.

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Why does the World Health Organization recommend HIV self-testing (home testing)?

Currently, it is estimated that only 84% of people with HIV know their HIV status. Countries are looking for ways to increase the number of people testing for HIV. Self-testing is one way of doing this, because:

  • it is easy and convenient, especially for people who struggle to get to healthcare clinics
  • it can be done at any time, so there is no waiting in lines or for limited appointments at clinics
  • it is done at home, so people who are worried about experiencing HIV stigma if they go to a HIV clinic are more likely to test
  • it is private, so people who might experience judgement or criminalisation are more likely to test. 

How can a test detect HIV from an oral swab if there is no HIV in saliva (spit)?

There is no risk of passing on HIV through kissing as saliva contains such a small trace of HIV. Because of this, lots of people find it confusing that you can use oral samples to test for HIV.

To explain this, the first thing to know is that oral HIV tests do not detect the virus itself, instead they look for antibodies. These are cells that the immune system develops to respond to an HIV infection. So, oral fluids don’t contain the virus needed to pass HIV on, but they do contain the antibodies required to detect an HIV infection.

It’s also worth noting that the tests do not look for antibodies in saliva, instead they test something called ‘oral mucosal transudate’, which is a fluid that is released from the cells that make up your cheeks and gums. This is why when you take an oral sample you rub the stick along your gums and cheeks, where antibodies are more likely to be found.

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  • Last updated: 17 October 2023
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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