How does an oral human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test work?

The oral human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test detects circulating antibodies in your saliva formed by your body's immune system in response to the virus. There are different tests for detecting HIV: antibodies can be detected in saliva or blood. The oral HIV test has many advantages as it is quick and noninvasive.

Health professionals have access to a rapid HIV test (one that doesn't have to be sent to a laboratory for processing) that can use blood, serum or oral fluids with equal accuracy. A simple swab of the mouth and gums is all that's required for the OraSure OraQuick Advance test. Its accuracy compares favorably with that of a blood-based test.

The OraSure test doesn't use saliva. Instead, it uses a fluid called oral mucosal transudate, found in the cheeks and gums. Other than the fluid used for testing, the oral HIV test works just like HIV blood tests - it's testing not for the actual disease, but for the antibodies the immune system produces in a futile attempt to kill the virus.

The OraQuick Advance device holds a test strip. High up on the test strip, within the plastic casing, a substance with the makeup of HIV proteins, known as antigens, has been applied. A patient places the end of the test strip in the mouth and swabs the cheeks and gums. The test administrator then places the end of the device in a vial containing an enzyme solution that reacts to any antibody-antigen binding. As the oral fluid and the enzymes ascend the test strip, they encounter the HIV-antigen substance. If the oral fluid has HIV antibodies, they bind to the antigens and the enzyme reacts, causing the strip to change color. This produces a line on the device read-out, a line that indicates a reaction - one not considered to be a definite positive. As with any other HIV test, OraQuick requires a repeat test before a patient is deemed to be HIV positive.

The oral HIV test yields results in about 20 minutes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.