July 23, 2012
Maine HIV/AIDS prevention groups say an HIV test recently approved for at-home use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could increase HIV testing, but also could leave some people without access to crucial counseling.
The OraQuick oral test, which was initially approved for use by trained technicians in 2004, will be available to consumers via retail and online outlets by October. Researchers have found that when administered by consumers, the test is accurate 92 percent of the time in those infected, versus 99.98 percent in those who are not. Any positive test requires a confirmatory test in a doctor's office.
Patti Capouch, executive director of the Portland-based Frannie Peabody Center, an HIV/AIDS organization, said the new test likely will appeal to those reluctant to visit a clinic for testing. Despite the benefits of home testing, however, Capouch is worried that those testing positive will not be connected with a local doctor, as they are when tested in clinics.
Of the roughly 1,500 Mainers living with HIV/AIDS, it is estimated that several hundred do not know they are infected, said Sean Weber, program manager at Eastern Maine AIDS Network. The home test may be especially welcomed in rural parts of the state located far from clinics.
OraSure Technologies plans to staff a 24-hour hotline to help consumers and offer guidance. However, Capouch cautioned, "Getting a positive result is really something you need a professional to talk you through and help link you to medical care."
Weber is also concerned about how clear the test's instructions are, and he worries that people may miss out on HIV/AIDS education. "We talk to them about things like safer sex, abstaining, not sharing drugs, all that stuff that puts them at a higher risk," he said.