(RxWiki News) It's been thirty years since AIDS began teaching a hard lesson about the importance of safe sex. And yet, some people haven't learned. So what – if anything – can protect them from HIV?
One group of researchers wanted to find out if asking a new partner to take a quick, at-home HIV test before having sex could reduce transmission.
Their study yielded dramatic results: In some cases, the tests found people who were previously unaware of their infection or had not volunteered their status to their potential partner before they were asked to take the test.
"If you're sexually active, get an HIV test."
The study was conducted by Dr. Alex Carballo-Dieguez and colleagues at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at New York. They wanted to assess whether a high risk group – men who have sex with men – who said they never or rarely wear condoms and have multiple partners, would use a rapid HIV test to screen potential partners.
The first at-home HIV test was approved just this summer by the FDA. The OraQuick test is a simple swab test that you wipe across the inside of your mouth. It delivers results in 20 minutes.
The researchers saw the test as a potential tool to add to the arsenal of strategies to prevent the transmission of HIV. Previous studies had shown that even men who didn't usually wear condoms did want to avoid infection.
The first stage of the study had found that 80 percent of men surveyed said they would use the over-the-counter test to screen partners. Seventy four percent were able to competently administer the test and correctly interpret the results, showing that the test was in fact easy to use.
Twenty-seven men participated in the second part of the study, and were each given 16 rapid HIV tests. Most of the potential partners agreed to take the test, and only one-fifth refused.
When partners resisted, the men in the study were more careful. In an interview with the study authors, one man said: “Either I didn’t do nothing with them, or I used a—or I used a condom with them. Yeah, ‘cause I just didn’t trust it ‘cause I was thinking they was infected.’’
Two potential partners disclosed their positive status when they were asked to take the test, and they hadn't been up front about it before. Seven tests came back positive – and six out of those seven didn't know they had HIV.
The study authors wrote, “Participants were three times more likely to report that using [the HIV test] made them reduce their risk, be more cautious, practice safer sex, or think more about whom to have sex with than they were to report that use of HT made them more likely to have [unprotected sex].”
But there may be some barriers to wide adoption of the test. The OraQuick tests are about $20 each, which may be cost prohibitive for many men. The tests in the study were provided free of charge.
Still, a $20 test is less expensive than Truvada, now being billed as an HIV prevention pill, which comes in at $10,000 a year (without insurance).
Another worry is that it might cause people to take additional risks and not use condom. But the group studied already did not use condoms, the researchers point out – and may be a good addition to the toolbox of prevention strategies.
The study was published in August 2012 in the journal AIDS and Behavior.