The feasibility of modified HIV and antiretroviral drug testing using self-collected dried blood spots from men who have sex with men

BMC Infect Dis. 2021 May 5;21(1):423. doi: 10.1186/s12879-021-06110-x.


Background: In the US, one in six men who have sex with men (MSM) with HIV are unaware of their HIV infection. In certain circumstances, access to HIV testing and viral load (VL) monitoring is challenging. The objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of conducting laboratory-based HIV and antiretroviral (ARV) drug testing, and VL monitoring as part of two studies on self-collected dried blood spots (DBS).

Methods: Participants were instructed to collect DBS by self-fingerstick in studies that enrolled MSM online. DBS from the first study (N = 1444) were tested with HIV serological assays approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A subset was further tested with laboratory-modified serological and VL assays, and ARV levels were measured by mass spectrometry. DBS from the second study (N = 74) were only tested to assess VL monitoring.

Results: In the first study, the mail back rate of self-collected DBS cards was 62.9%. Ninety percent of DBS cards were received at the laboratory within 2 weeks from the day of collection, and 98% of the cards had sufficient spots for one assay. Concordance between FDA-approved and laboratory-modified protocols was high. The samples with undetectable ARV had higher VL than samples with at least one ARV drug. In the second study, 70.3% participants returned self-collected DBS cards, and all had sufficient spots for VL assay. High VL was observed in samples from participants who reported low ARV adherence.

Conclusions: In these studies, MSM were able to collect and provide adequate DBS for HIV testing. The FDA-approved and laboratory-modified testing algorithms performed similarly. DBS collected at home may be feasible for HIV testing, ARV measurement, and monitoring viral suppression.

Keywords: HIV testing; MSM; Online recruitment; Self-collected DBS; Viral load monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Dried Blood Spot Testing / methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Self-Testing*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • United States
  • Viral Load / methods*


  • Anti-HIV Agents