IN SHORT: A viral TikTok video claims that people with HIV can hide their status by taking medication, even painkillers like paracetamol, before an HIV test. This claim is false, an expert has told us.
An account with over 140,000 followers posted a video on TikTok in late February 2023, with an astonishing claim. The user speaks in a mixture of the English and Kiswahili commonly spoken in Kenya’s urban areas.
He claims to have uncovered a secret – that people with HIV can keep their positive status undetected when tested by simply taking any other medication before the test.
He says that taking painkillers like Panadol, a brand of paracetamol, before an HIV test will make the viral load undetectable. He says this is a new trick used by people with HIV who take the test, knowing it will come back negative, in order to have unprotected sex and infect their partners.
“This is the secret people with HIV are using. They know that if they are positive and on the morning of your first date they use any medicine, they use Panadol, they use [painkiller] Mara Moja, or if they are using any medication, if they take an HIV test they will be negative,” the man claims in the video.
The video, titled “Biggest secret of HIV + people”, has received over 1.6 million views, over 104,000 likes, over 6,200 comments, and has been shared over 9,000 times by users.
But are its claims accurate?
What is HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, attacks and weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to other infections and certain types of cancers.
HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk, and can lead to the serious long-term condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or Aids, if the person with HIV is not treated.
HIV can be detected by various tests that look for the presence of HIV antibodies, antigens, or genetic material in a person's blood, saliva, or urine. There are three main tests used to detect HIV: antibody tests, antigen/antibody tests, and nucleic acid tests.
- Antibody tests detect the presence of antibodies produced by the body in response to an HIV infection. A common antibody test is the Elisa test, which is used together with a Western blot test, and is highly specific and accurate.
- Antigen/antibody tests detect the presence of both HIV antibodies and the HIV p24 antigen, a protein that is part of the HIV virus. Antigen tests can detect HIV infection earlier than antibody tests, especially when blood is taken from a vein and not a finger prick.
- Nucleic acid tests look for the genetic material, or RNA, of HIV in a person's blood. They are very sensitive and can detect HIV infection within a few days of exposure.
As a member of the United Nations, Kenya works with UN agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAids to follow best practices in detecting and stopping the spread of HIV/Aids. In 2022, Kenya adopted the WHO-backed three-test HIV testing algorithm.
Can medication affect HIV test results?
The main situation in which HIV may not be detected is soon after infection. It can take several weeks or even months for antibodies to appear in the blood after a person has been infected with HIV. Therefore, the test may need to be repeated after a certain period of time has passed to confirm a negative result.
If a person with HIV takes antiretroviral medication for a period of time as prescribed by their doctor, the amount of the HIV virus in their blood will be significantly reduced, making them much less likely to transmit the virus. However, tests such as the Western blot test can still detect the presence of HIV antibodies.
Kinyanjui confirmed that no drug, including drugs stronger than Panadol, could mask the antibodies produced in response to an HIV infection. He also said that even when the virus was suppressed, HIV antibodies were still present in the blood and could be detected.
HIV tests are over 99% accurate, but no test is 100% accurate. Routine testing after exposure is recommended. Kenya’s National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme recommends that people be tested for HIV because it helps in the early detection of the virus, which leads to appropriate medical care and limits the spread of the virus.
Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the quality of life and life expectancy of people with HIV.
The claim made in the TikTok video that any medication, including painkillers, can hide a positive HIV status is false.
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