(RxWiki News) Which would you rather do, give up some saliva or have blood taken? Good news for those of us who hate being pricked with needles: A saliva test can replace a blood test for HIV.
A new study found that the oral HIV test is as accurate as a traditional blood test for diagnosing the virus in high-risk populations.
Its passing grade could mean greater access to HIV tests, because it can be handed out and used at home by people who might not go into a clinic.
"Concerned about HIV? Get tested by your doctor."
Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, a medical scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre led the study, published in The Lancet.
She said previous studies have shown that the test, called Oraquick advance rapid HIV-1/2, have shown that it is effective. But it had not yet been proved on a global scale.
The saliva test is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's manufactured by OraSure Technologies Inc in Pennsylvania, and has already become a popular alternative to the blood test in the United States.
The study compared results from five global databases of the two tests. The researchers found that among high-risk populations, the oral test was 99 percent effective in diagnosing the virus in high risk populations, and 97 percent effective among lower risk populations.
In the paper, the authors noted that the slightly lower accuracy for low risk populations should be considered if worldwide HIV testing initiatives are to use the oral test.
The test itself comes in the form of a plastic stick with a cotton swab on the end. Users swab it around their outer gums, and put it in a vial filled with an enzyme solution.
The chemical reaction triggers the appearance of a reddish colored line, similar to a pregnancy test. The user then takes the test to a doctor or nurse to confirm their result.
The process takes 20 minutes, as opposed to two weeks for the traditional test.
The test could be a powerful tool in the fight against AIDS, especially in countries where the virus has spread to epidemic proportions. HIV can spread rapidly through high risk populations, because many individuals have never been tested, don't know they have the disease, and engage in high risk behaviors like unprotected sex.
Getting tested, and learning about your HIV status, is the first step towards modifying risky behaviors and preventing other people from becoming infected.
The Lancet study was published in January 2012.