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Oral HIV test almost as accurate as blood test

Researchers at McGill University report that their comparison of five previous studies shows an accuracy difference of less than 2 percent between blood and saliva HIV tests.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
The noninvasive OraQuick HIV-1/2 saliva test is $35. OraQuick

New findings that a saliva-based HIV test is only 2 percent less accurate than blood tests could make a case for more widespread self-testing around the world.

Researchers from McGill University in Montreal report in this week's issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases that field research data from five worldwide databases show that in high-risk populations, the saliva test (approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004) is 98.0 percent accurate, compared to a blood test's 99.68 percent accuracy.

The painless and noninvasive OraQuick HIV-1/2 saliva test, which yields results in just 20 minutes, has been shown to have great promise across several previous studies, but McGill medical scientist Nitika Pant Pai says this is the first study to evaluate its global potential.

"Getting people to show up for HIV testing at public clinics has been difficult because of visibility, stigma, lack of privacy, and discrimination," Dr. Pant Pai said in a statement. "A confidential testing option such as self-testing could bring an end to the stigmatization associated with HIV testing...Testing is the cornerstone of prevention, treatment, and care strategies."

Of course, when dealing with testing on a global scale, even a 2 percent drop in accuracy can result in a large number of false-negative or false-positive results. Study co-author Rosanna Peeling stresses that self-testing must be followed up by professional care.

Still, if considerable numbers of people refuse to go to clinics to be tested, saliva-based self-testing could, at the very least, result in more testing and--one would hope--more precautions among those with a positive result.