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FDA approves at-home HIV test

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Sarah Gardner: Here in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is making news: The FDA has approved the first quick, take-home test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. So soon, consumers are gonna be able to go to the drug store, buy an HIV test kit and get their results in private — all in less than an hour.

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill reports on the pros and cons of a product that many couldn’t have imagined back in the 80s, when the AIDS epidemic was at its height.

Adriene Hill: Here’s how the home test will work: You swab your gums, wait 20 to 40 minutes. And, just like a home pregnancy test, lines pop up to let you know if you are positive for HIV or not.

Michael Weinstein is head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He says being able to test in private means more people might get tested.

Michael Weinstein: The value of the test is that there are people who will not go to their doctor and don’t want to talk about their sexual practices and are embarrassed or worried about it showing up on their insurance.

But there are some downsides to do-it-yourself HIV testing. Christopher Hurt is a professor at UNC’s School of Medicine.

Christopher Hurt: The test is helpful if the result is positive, it tells you something reliable if the test is positive. If the test is negative, it doesn’t always mean that you don’t have HIV.

The FDA says one of 12 HIV-infected individuals could get a false negative result with the test.

Plus, there’s the issue of the cost. Orasure, the company that makes the test, hasn’t announced the price, but says it’ll be higher than what it charges clinics because of the extra packaging, labeling and a 24-hour hotline. Some experts estimate are the testing kit could be as much as $60 each.

Mary Jane Rotheram: That’s going to be prohibitively expensive to a number of people, and to the populations that are going to be most at risk of getting infected.

Mary Jane Rotheram is a professor at UCLA. Still, she thinks the FDA’s approval is a big step forward. She says more people knowing their status should mean fewer new cases of HIV.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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