SINGAPORE - The buzz: A home test kit for HIV that has just been approved in the US.
"As easy as using a home pregnancy kit", it allows testing for the human immunodeficiency virus in the privacy of your home.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids) is the final stage of HIV infection.
But some people, who lead risky lifestyles by having multiple sex partners, are using the kit as an excuse to have unprotected sex.
That was what one freelance writer here, who only wanted to be known as Rick, 35, did - only once - and ended up paying for life.
And he told The New Paper he is not the only one.
His worry now is that "many young men in their 20s will go down the same road" as he did. He said: "They are using home test kits as security blankets to raw sex."
Like Rick and his partner, these men obtained the kits online and would bring them along to test the status of their potential partners before having sex.
Over-the-counter rapid test kits and self-testing are currently not allowed here.
Rick has set up an "Agony Aunt" blog for young gay men and many have written in to share their exploits, or their stress after receiving their test results.
"There are many young guys in their 20s who have been diagnosed with HIV, a few (of them) as young as 18 years.
"They arm themselves with a false sense of security and not reporting their status," he said.
Under the Infectious Diseases Act, it is an offence for persons who know that they are infected with HIV not to inform their sex partners of their HIV status before sexual intercourse.
Rick pointed out that many doing the home tests have forgotten about the window period.
The window period is when a person is infected with the HIV virus but has not developed the antibodies yet.
Like any other HIV test that uses antibody detection, the home test kit might also give false negatives during the three-month window period when antibodies do not show up.
Infected two months after sex
Rick told TNP that two months after agreeing to what he called "raw sex" with his gay partner, he was infected.
"We had had a sexless relationship for months before we decided to consummate our relationship. So we bought a home test kit online each to test our HIV status, just to be 'sure'," he said. The result then : HIV-negative.
This gave both men a false sense of security.
He said he had not realised then that his partner was "in the window period".
When a fever did not go away months later, Rick realised his folly. He said: "I was warded at the hospital after they conducted a battery of tests. It was then that I was found to have been infected."
The irony: Rick had been a staunch advocate of condom use and was a volunteer working with people who were infected.
"It was only that one time and I got infected," he said.
He has been HIV-positive for the last two years.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had, in July, approved the home test kit, making it possible for Americans to learn if they are infected with the Aids virus in the privacy of their homes.
The home test kit, OraQuick In-Home Oral HIV test, is now available at 30,000 American retail outlets.
It detects the presence of HIV in saliva collected using a mouth swab and is designed to return a result within 40 minutes.
This, the US-FDA said, will make testing for HIV as easy as using a home pregnancy kit, marking a step forward in normalising an infection once seen as a mark of shame and a potential death sentence.
Agreeing, Aids experts called for their use here at the recent Singapore Aids Conference.
President of advocacy group Action for Aids Roy Chan said licensing home test kits would help turn the tide against HIV and get a lot more people to test, and test regularly.
A recent paper by Clinical Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, director of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, showed 89 per cent of 987 people surveyed preferred to use a home test kit.
About the same proportion said they would buy one over the counter.
When asked if home test kits are likely to be sold here, a Health Ministry spokesman said over-the-counter sale of rapid test kits and self-testing are not allowed here "because of the possibility of getting unreliable results".
She said the test kit was approved in the US only recently, and that the ministry will be monitoring the US experience carefully.
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