An oral test for HIV is an effective and preferred alternative to blood tests, and could become standard in developing countries such as China and India, say researchers.
The research, published in PLoS ONE (11 April), showed that the oral test OraQuick HIV1/2 was 100 per cent accurate in a clinical trial conducted on 450 patients in a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India. Standard blood tests had an accuracy of 99.7 per cent.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved Oraquick in 2004 but there were doubts over its accuracy after tests showed false positive results in the United States and on pregnant women in India.
According to lead author Nitika Pai, of the McGill University Health Centre, Canada, the test is simple and quick.
Swabs of oral fluid are taken and tested for the presence of antibodies against HIV. "The test kit is all inclusive. It contains the swab, a stand and test solution. You get the test result in less than 20 minutes,'' Pai told SciDev.Net.
The study also found that 66 per cent of those who received the blood test complained of discomfort while only eight per cent of those receiving the oral test did the same.
The authors say the test could be used in rural, resource-limited areas in Africa, China, India and Russia, and could greatly enhance the control of the HIV epidemic in these areas.
But at present, OraQuick can only give tentative positive results because it has to be confirmed by analysis, which is not yet available in villages.
Pai also concedes that there are problems with testing for HIV in remote areas without providing adequate counselling on managing the disease. "But it's good to know that it is possible to get good results in a rural setting," she adds.
The test is likely to cost around US$10 in Asia. It was developed by OraSure Technologies and has been approved for use in Korea and Singapore.
PLos ONE 2(4): e367. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000367 (2007)