Another Use for Rapid Home H.I.V. Test: Screening Sexual Partners

Published: October 5, 2012

The first rapid home-testing kit for H.I.V. has just gone on sale for $40, marketed as a way for people to find out privately if they have the virus that causes AIDS.

But some experts and advocates say that another use, unadvertised, for the OraQuick test — to screen potential sexual partners — may become equally popular and even help slow an epidemic stuck at 50,000 new infections each year in the United States.

There are reasons to think that screening might make a difference. Studies have found that a significant minority of people who are H.I.V.-positive either lie about their status or keep it secret, infecting unsuspecting partners.

And though the manufacturer, OraSure Technologies, is not promoting the use of the test for screening, 70 percent of the 4,000 men and women in the company’s clinical trials said they would either definitely or very likely use it that way. Some even suggested that the company sell boxes of two so couples could be tested together.

The only study of the practice — a small one involving 27 gay men who frequently had sex with virtual strangers without using condoms — found that it probably prevented some infections. The study was published online in August by the journal AIDS and Behavior.

“If it becomes a community norm, people may start testing their partners,” said Alex Carballo-Diéguez, the lead author of the study, who is a psychology professor at Columbia University and the associate director of the H.I.V. Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “On sex sites now, men advertise themselves as ‘drug-and-disease-free.’ They could start saying ‘D-and-D-free, and willing to prove it.’ ”

Other AIDS experts had doubts. Some thought $40 was too much for people who need to screen multiple partners. Others said that men and women who are not comfortable demanding that their partners wear condoms would be unable to insist on a test.

And some, including Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s best-known AIDS doctor, worried that a negative test could lead partners to forgo condoms, removing the barrier to both H.I.V. and other diseases like gonorrhea.

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