+LIFE: Turning Positive into a PlusTHE TRUTH ABOUT HIV HOME TESTS

In honor of National HIV Testing Day, June 27, Dr Anu Seshadri discusses everything you need to know about at home HIV tests, their effectiveness, misconceptions, and what to do if you receive a positive diagnosis.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl and. Dr. Anu.

DR. ANU

Protect yourself, protect other people.

KARL

Hello there. Welcome to plus talk on plus life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. We’re also all about encouraging people to get tested for HIV on a regular basis. And someone here who can tell us a bit about testing our very own resident medical director professional. Dr. Anu, thank you for coming In.

DR. ANU

Thank you for having Me.

KARL

And Gus is thrilled that you,

DR. ANU

yes, he’s just there he is. He’s such a good buddy.

KARL

Gus also encourages is, is all about HIV testing and that’s what we’re talking about today. So in the simplest form, what is an HIV test?

DR. ANU

It checks for the virus in different ways. How? So? There’s three different classes of tests. One is to actually check for the antibodies. So this is the response to being exposed to the virus. Number two is checking for the antigen, antigen slash antibody. So the antigen is a foreign substance that’s produced when the body gets exposed to the virus by the virus in itself. Okay? So in particular, for example, P 24 antigen is what’s produced with the HIV virus. I know it’s a lot. And then the third is what we call a nucleic acid test or NAT. And it detects the virus in itself, the DNA, and that’s the most reliable problem.

KARL

So Typically when I go into the clinic or I come and see you for a test, which one is, did should I be asking for a specific test or am I by me saying, I want like an HIV test?

DR. ANU

I would hope that you would trust the doctor and often say that you just wanna be tested for HIV and, and you get it right.

KARL

This may seem like a no-brainer question, but why should people be getting tested for HIV

DR. ANU

In order to just be safe? Protect yourself, protect other people. The sooner you know what your status is, the sooner you can start treatment if needed.

KARL

And how often should I be getting tested?

DR. ANU

Well, at least once a year. And this is just in general, I recommend any individuals that are sexually active, especially, you know, if they have multiple partners at least once a year. But depending on your lifestyle, every three months, every three to six months.

KARL

So in the most simple way possible, which may not be easy with this question, what does the lab test actually show?

DR. ANU

So it can detect those three different values that I said. So it can either, it tests for the antibody, it tests for the antigen, or it tests for the virus in itself. Now the last test that I said, the nucleic acid test, it’s the one that can pick up if you have HIV or not the quickest, right? So 10 to 33, about 10 to 33 days after potentially being exposed.

KARL

Now we know that one of the biggest obstacles for people getting tested is stigma and the misinformation that still exists around HIV. So now we have at-home tests and home testing. But what is the difference, I guess, between doing an at-home test and versus coming into the clinic?

DR. ANU

Yeah, so the blood draw obviously is gonna be the most accurate. And with the blood draw, as I stated before, we can actually test for the virus in itself and look at the viral load with that as well. How much of the virus you actually have. The at-home test, there’s a couple of different at-home tests. One is to check for the antibodies and that’s the last thing to actually form, right? And be detected. And you can do an at-home oral test, just swabbing your gums. The other is there’s actually mail-in tests where you do a finger prick and send your blood in and that checks for the antibody antigen.

KARL

Where might a at-home test be a better option for somebody?

DR. ANU

If you’re nervous, you know, if you’re nervous or it’s inconvenient to go to a doctor’s office, you wanna, you feel safe of being at home, you want a quicker result, right? Because some of these tests, it takes, what, 20 minutes to get the result? 20 to 30 minutes to get the result.

KARL

So that’s, I’ve got a test here, lean in. We might have to do this, but this is, there’s a few brands out there. Yeah, yeah. But this is a, a, an at home test. They’re pretty straightforward, aren’t they? Yeah,

DR. ANU

I, I mean it’s, look at the, in information that’s given multiple and it’s just, you just read through it and, and everything is there. So this is this, in this, in this case, this is an oral test. So one I’m assuming swabs their mouth and, and, and follows the instructions. And in about 20 minutes you get your results. Yeah.

KARL

And these, by the way, we should say you can get these for free. These don’t even cost any money. Like there, there are services out there if you Google online where they will send this to your home in a discrete package. ’cause again, stigma. Right? Right.

DR. ANU

And, you know, always check with your local health department, you know, your primary care provider. ’cause state laws also vary. So just, just figure out what your options are.

KARL

How reliable do you think these are?

DR. ANU

Not as reliable, like I said, compared to the actual blood draw. And, and also keeping in mind when your last exposure date was, because if you test yourself too quickly or too soon, then you’re gonna get a falsely negative result.

KARL

I, I had that once. Yeah, I, that was part of my HIV diagnosis journey. Yeah. Is that kind of, this Is the window period that correct people talk about, right?

DR. ANU

Yeah.

KARL

Can you talk a bit about That?

DR. ANU

Right. So from the exposure to when you actually test can potentially test positive, there’s a window period where you may get falsely negative results because you need to have enough of the virus to be detectable on a test.

KARL

And how wide is that window? Like what’s the timeframe on that?

DR. ANU

It can be anywhere, like anywhere between a month to even three months.

KARL

Wow, Okay.

DR. ANU

And that’s the reason why I said to routinely test, if you have multiple sexual partners, it’s every three months. And it’s not just HIV. Yeah. If fulls, hepatitis, it takes a while to cook to actually show up to be positive.

KARL

And if, I guess what, I guess if you are quite sexually active and you are having multiple partners, then perhaps the at home oral test is not the smartest way to go going to your clinic or see a professional. But if you’re not that sexually active and it’s been one of two things and you think, well, I haven’t and I don’t want to go through the stress of maybe being seen going into a clinic and all of that, then this is, this is a, a good option to start with. Yeah. What do I do if this tells me I’m HIV positive and I’m sitting in my bedroom at home alone and I get a positive test? Yeah. What happens then?

DR. ANU

Well, we know with most cases people are gonna freak out, right? That’s the number one. So this, it’s, it’s easier said than done, but try and stay calm. And then second is to reach out. If you do have a doctor that you regularly see, make an appointment as quick as possible. If you don’t, then at least set up a doctor’s appointment so that you can get evaluated and treated as soon as possible. And then third is if you have anybody that you can share with or reach out to so that during this process or to talk things through or even ask questions, then do, so that would be the time to reach out to people.

KARL

Yeah. And I would say that as an HIV positive person, you know, if any of my friends say, oh, I want to do this test, I, I’m always very quick to say, do you want me to be there with you when you test or do you want me to be on the phone or FaceTime with you just in case? And I think if you know people who are living with HIV and you decide to do the home test, reach out to them and let them know. Because those of us with the lived experience, we can be a big help if you get that news and fingers crossed you don’t get the news.

DR. ANU

These tests, if people can do at home covid swabs right now, then this is quite simple.

KARL

I know it may look intimidating ’cause of all the packaging, but it is, it is really straightforward.

DR. ANU

The Process is very, very, very straightforward and very simple. Don’t let it, don’t let it deter you from getting tested.

KARL

And I think that’s a great way for us to wrap up this episode of plus talk, the whole process, whether you do it at home with one of these, whether you go to a sexual health clinic, whether you see your doctor, it is a pretty straightforward thing and it’s not something to be frightened of.

DR. ANU

No. And the sooner, the sooner, you know, the sooner we can make changes not only for yourself, but others, and we, this is the perfect way to actually decrease the spread of HIV.

KARL

Yeah. Knowledge is power. Yes, absolutely. And you are full of knowledge and you are a powerful woman. Dr. Annu, thank you for making the time. Aw. Thank you for having me again. Always. And Gus and Gus, that is gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk. If you want more information, go to the website plus life media.com. And remember, you can follow us across social media platforms like us, share us, talk about us, comment whenever you want. We are at Plus Life Media. Until next time, do yourself a favor. Go get tested. See you soon. Bye-Bye.

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