Magic Johnson: Take an AIDS Test at Home

The NBA icon says the OraQuick kit can help any of us know our HIV status.

Getty Images
Getty Images

(The Root) — “No, I’m not on any magical drugs. I’ve been saying that for 21 years,” Magic Johnson told a small crowd of journalists and HIV- and AIDS-prevention workers over lunch at New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel on Wednesday.

The NBA champion and star of the Los Angeles Lakers, after receiving the life-changing news that he was HIV-positive, announced his status to a gaggle of television cameras in 1991. Since then he has worked to change the way the world perceives people who carry the virus.

But initially, Johnson had to seek someone to guide him through the process of dealing with his disease, both emotionally and physically. Now he is an international ambassador for HIV and AIDS prevention, the self-proclaimed “face of this disease,” and he’s endorsing the at-home HIV test called OraQuick.

Produced by the pharmaceutical company OraSure, the test is the first FDA-approved rapid HIV test, which produces results in 20 minutes. It retails at pharmacies like CVS or Duane Reade, as well as online for about $39. OraQuick, which has been used by health care providers for just over a decade, uses a mouth swab to detect antibodies to HIV-1 and HIV-2 in oral fluid. And while this seems to be great news for people who would rather learn their status in their own bathroom, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the test does come with a caveat.

“OraQuick would produce one false-negative result for every 13 true-positive tests,” FDA staff told Bloomberg News, and it can also be administered incorrectly. For example, an inaccurate reading can result if a person takes the test too close to their moment of incidence rather than after three to six months, the approximate time HIV takes to appear in the human body.

When asked about this problem, an OraSure publicist told The Root, “All of the directions are clearly marked on the product and on the website. There’s a how-to video that explains that as well.”

Johnson added, “If people have any questions, even if they find out they’re positive and want to take a second test at a clinic or a hospital, they should do so. I took the test twice when my first results came back. It’s just that easy to ease your own mind; we just want people to get tested.”

Debra Fraser-Howze, former head of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and current OraSure senior vice president of Government and External Affairs, added that her company made a point to reach out to the HIV/AIDS community to make their product as efficient as possible. The results are two pamphlets inserted inside the test’s package, which include a hotline connecting users to local health care providers and therapists nationwide. Magic Johnson spoke with The Root about why he’s endorsing this product and the biggest stumbling block blacks and Latinos face toward creating a generation free of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.