Self-testing kits for HIV (also called HIV home-testing) became legal in the UK from 6 April 2014. Regulated kits are now available for sale but it is important to check the CE mark before purchasing any kit.
Here are answers to some common questions you might have about home testing:
Can I buy an HIV self-test kit in the UK?
It is now legal for HIV self-test kits to be sold in the UK, whether online or in the shops. Every self-test kit has to have a CE mark to show it has gone through specific regulatory processes to ensure they can be used safely.
Some test kits have a CE mark for other settings, such as in a clinic, but this is different from the CE mark needed for self-testing. Any self-test you buy should state clearly that it is a self-testing kit and have the CE mark for use as a self-test. We would strongly advise against the use of any HIV testing kit for self-testing which does not have the CE mark for use as a self-testing kit.
If you have come across an HIV self-test kit for sale and have further questions as to whether it is advisable to use it, please ring THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.
Why should I test for HIV?
There are over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK and around a quarter of them don’t know they’re HIV positive.
HIV is a treatable condition and no longer a terminal illness. Knowing whether or not you’re HIV positive is essential so that you can access specialist HIV services and HIV treatment.
Effective HIV therapy not only keeps the individual well but it also prevents them from passing the virus onto others. If someone with HIV is diagnosed early and is able to access treatment then their life expectancy is as good as if they were HIV negative.
What is HIV self-testing?
Self-testing is when you perform an HIV test on yourself, in private, and get an immediate result.
What is the difference between HIV self-testing and an HIV postal test?
HIV postal test kits have always been legal in the UK. The person who is testing takes a sample (saliva or blood from a finger-prick) and then sends it to a laboratory for testing. Results are given by text message or a phone call from a healthcare worker at a later date. These tests are also referred to as 'self-sampling'.
With HIV self-test kits, an individual will take a sample, test it themselves using the kit and obtain their result immediately. There won’t be any need to send the sample to a laboratory and you’ll read the result yourself.
How do the self-testing kits work?
The person who is testing takes either a saliva sample with a swab or a small sample of blood from a finger prick. Self-testing kits have been developed to be easy to use. You should always follow all the instructions carefully as any errors may invalidate the test.
How would I get the result?
You’ll be able to read the test result yourself after 15 or 20 minutes (depending on the test kit).
What would the window period be with self-testing kits?
The window period for self-testing kits is three months. This means a self-testing kit is not guaranteed to pick up an infection that has occurred in the previous three months. If you believe you might have been exposed to HIV within the three months prior to the test, you should attend a GP, sexual health or community testing service to have an HIV test using a blood sample. This will increase your chances of detecting a recent infection (the current window period with clinic-based tests is 30 days).
What would I do if my result is negative?
If your self-test result is negative, there’s no need to perform a confirmation test, unless you have reason to believe you did not follow the test instructions, or you think you may have been exposed to HIV within the window period of the test you’re using. This could be because you’ve had sex without a condom or shared injecting equipment with someone whose HIV status is unknown to you within the three months before doing the test.
Important: if a risk for HIV was taken in the last 72 hours it’s possible to take Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to try to stop an infection happening. PEP can be obtained from a Sexual Health service or A+E.
Find your local Sexual Health service.
What would I do if my result is reactive?
A test result that is reactive indicates that the test has 'reacted' and suggests it has detected the presence of HIV antibodies. Some suppliers may use the term 'positive' to indicate the presence of HIV antibodies. However, this doesn’t mean that you definitely have HIV. All reactive (or positive) test results need to be confirmed with a blood test.
If your HIV self-test result is reactive, you’d have to attend a sexual health service which would then perform a different HIV test on a blood sample.
If you’re HIV positive, appropriate care and treatment will be made available to you. Highly effective treatment for HIV is available through the NHS and is free of charge for everyone.
How reliable are these tests?
HIV tests licensed in the UK are very reliable, but occasionally they can produce a positive result which is then found to be negative when tested again. This is known as a false positive test result.
False positive results are rare and occur in less than 0.3 per cent of cases.
A false positive can be the result of a recent flu vaccination, current or recent viral infections and sometimes multiple pregnancies. More rarely, false positive results have been reported as a result of a small number of other medical conditions and vaccines, though such results are unusual.
If the test gives a reactive (or positive) result then you should attend a sexual health service as soon as possible to take more tests to confirm the result. The self-test kit should provide you with information about how best to go about this.
Why would I use HIV self-testing rather than a clinic?
- Self-testing kits will give you the convenience of doing the test in your own time and in the privacy of your own home. Clinics can sometimes be busy or difficult to get to. With home HIV testing there won’t be any queues and you’ll not need to talk to anyone about the test.
- For those most at risk we recommend testing as often as every three months. Self-testing would make this much easier.
- HIV self-testing is not suitable for everyone. You may prefer to talk to someone before having an HIV test or you might prefer to have an HIV test that gives the best reliable result and has a shorter window period.
- We’d recommend using both self-testing and clinic-based testing depending on your needs. In a clinic you would also benefit from a full check-up for all sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having another STI can increase your chances of getting HIV.
How would I know I’m buying a reliable self-test kit for HIV?
To receive approval for sale in the UK, HIV self-test kits must meet a number of requirements concerning test performance, labelling and directions for use. Removing the ban on selling HIV self-testing kits will ensure that kits sold in the UK meet the quality standards required to obtain MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority) or EMA (European Medicines Agency) approval.
Tests that meet the required standards will be given a CE mark. When used as intended, CE marked self-test kits will work properly and be acceptably safe. So you should check for the CE mark specifically for self-testing.
However, no self-test kit is going to be 100 per cent reliable. You should consult your GP or visit a sexual health service if your concerns or symptoms persist, or if you have any worries about your health.
Would I be able to use self-testing for other STIs?
No, self-testing kits will only test for HIV.
Other STIs such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, herpes and chlamydia cannot be identified using an HIV test.
To access testing for other STIs and advice on reduction of high-risk behaviours, visit a sexual health service.
What regulated self-testing kits are available?
Type of test: Blood from finger-prick
Biosure HIV self-testing kits are available from their website or through the NHS on-line shop.
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