Fears over DIY test for HIV

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The Independent Online
An Aids test that takes eight minutes and uses saliva rather than blood will result in more people being tested for HIV, the company selling the test said yesterday, writes Steve Connor.

Government scientists are currently evaluating the diagnostic kit which the pharmaceutical firm, Incstar, in Wokingham, Berkshire, claims is almost as accurate as the more elaborate blood test for HIV.

The £4 saliva test went on sale in Britain this month and insurance companies are among a variety of organisations that are keen to exploit it as an alternative to blood tests, which need a laboratory and can take a day or more for a result.

Les Tyrer, Incstar's product manager, said saliva contains about a thousandth of the quantity of HIV antibodies as blood, enough for the new test to detect with an accuracy greater than 98 per cent.

The test works by patients chewing on a swab which is pressed to extract the liquid. Reagents are then added that turn blue when HIV antibodies are found.

Although it is illegal to sell HIV tests directly to the public or to use them without proper counselling, some Aids researchers fear that a simple, cheap saliva test will result in more people learning they are HIV positive without proper counselling. It has by law to be explained to people undergoing an HIV test that a positive result should not be relied upon unless confirmed by at least one other type of test. Similarly a negative test may not have detected a recently acquired HIV infection.

Ruth Parry, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, an Aids charity, said the saliva test could encourage some organisations into pressing the test on people.

A medically qualified person has to take an HIV blood test because it essentially involves a surgical procedure, whereas anyone with the minimum experience can technically take the saliva test.

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