August 15, 2012
As recently as six years ago, testing for HIV was an involved process requiring pretest counseling and consent in writing. But public health officials seeking to boost testing rates have relaxed those rules, and today HIV screening is performed at pharmacies, health fairs, and bars -- in addition to clinical settings.
"It all comes down to testing," said Dr. Brad Hare, medical director of San Francisco General Hospital's HIV/AIDS ward. "The sooner people get on treatment, the better their long-term health is going to be, and if they get tested sooner, they can get into treatment sooner. Plus, with treatment, they can reduce the chances of spreading HIV by 96 percent."
CDC wants to cut the percentage of Americans who are unaware of their HIV status from the current 20 percent to 10 percent by 2015. In late June, the agency announced an initiative at 24 pharmacies across the United States in which customers can request a rapid HIV test administered by a pharmacist or another trained employee. "Millions of Americans visit pharmacies each week," said Paul Weidle, the CDC epidemiologist leading the project.
In early July, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter, home-based rapid HIV testing kit. The OraQuick test targets those who have never been tested and those who are at high-risk of contracting HIV and should get tested regularly.
"HIV is still a lethal infection and can lead to incredibly debilitating illness for people who delay treatment," said Dr. Nicholas Moss, clinical director of the HIV prevention section of the San Francisco Public Health Department. "The changes in how we approach testing reflect the fact that when we identify people who have HIV, we have very good treatment. The benefits of knowing your status are now clearer than ever."