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HIV/AIDS testing can be intimidating for many people, but now consumers may purchase an at-home test to learn their status with complete, guaranteed privacy.

This is a major breakthrough as health professionals plan to use National HIV Testing Day on Thursday to highlight the importance of knowing one’s HIV status, learning how to prevent infection and how and where to get help if the results are positive.

According to Dr. Rachael Ross, many people avoid HIV testing and among 1.2 million people in the U.S. who are estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 percent are not even aware that they have contracted the virus.

While black Americans make up about 14 percent of the nation’s population, they represent 50 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases. Further, according to the CDC, the majority of Americans have never taken an HIV test.

In July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced approval of the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, which provides results in 20-40 minutes after the consumer tests a sample of fluid from the mouth. The kit can be purchased in stores by anyone at least 17 years old.

OraQuick’s website provides additional information about the test, including retailers that sell the kits and links for followup questions with a health professional.

“Now, keep in mind that the antibodies to HIV will take anywhere from six weeks to six months to appear. So a negative HIV test is really only negative if your last unprotected sexual experience happened more than six months ago,” Ross has written on her website.

“So if you or your partner test negative, check the timeline before you celebrate, and before you decide to stop using condoms!”

The FDA also has warned that there is a risk of false negative results – especially if HIV was contracted within three months before the test – and the test must be confirmed by follow-up testing in a medical laboratory.

The CDC recommends that all adolescents and adults get tested for HIV at least once as a routine part of medical care, regardless of their risk. Those at higher risk for HIV, including those with multiple or HIV-infected partners or people who inject drugs, should get tested at least once a year.

For more information about HIV/AIDS or to find a traditional testing center, visit www.blackaids.org or aids.gov.

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