Saliva HIV Test As Effective As Blood Test: Study

Despite advances in the treatment of HIV, one huge challenge still lingers in the medical community: getting people tested in the first place.

The stigma associated with being tested and potentially exposed in a public clinic has prompted scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre to evaluate the efficacy of an oral HIV self-test, a method they believe can serve as an effective but much more private alternative to clinical testing.

Compared to a traditional blood screening, the saliva test OraQuick HIV1/2, the only oral fluid test approved for use in a health-care setting by the Food and Drug Administration, was 99 percent accurate in detecting HIV antibodies in high-risk populations and about 97 percent in low-risk populations, according to study findings published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

To evaluate this saliva test's potential for worldwide use, researchers analyzed real-life field research data from five global databases. High-risk groups include injection drug users, men who have sex with men, and people who have unprotected sex.

Much like home pregnancy tests, researchers believe that oral HIV self-tests can serve as an effective preliminary method of diagnosis.

"Getting people to show up for HIV testing at public clinics has been difficult because of visibility, stigma, lack of privacy and discrimination," the study’s lead author, Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, said in a release announcing the study findings. "A confidential testing option such as self-testing could bring an end to the stigmatization associated with HIV testing."

Earlier this month, another innovative HIV testing program called Testing Together was unveiled, allowing couples to hear their HIV status together, within minutes of receiving a blood test.