June 29, 2006
The Spokane Regional Health District has begun offering the OraQuick Advanced rapid oral HIV test to anyone at risk for the virus through unsafe sex or intravenous drug use, according to Dr. Kim Thorburn, health officer for the agency.
The rapid test has already been used successfully with high-risk clients, said Christopher Zilar, HIV prevention specialist with the health district. "It's an amazing option for us to offer with our clients," he said. Zilar noted that in the past, more than a third of people who sought HIV blood tests did not return for their results, which took two weeks. Because Washington HIV tests are anonymous, health officials could not contact those who tested positive but did not return for their results.
Zilar said the $60 test should be a boon to the "worried well," people at low risk for HIV who might have had unsafe sex. He said about ten people a week call with concerns, usually about unprotected sex.
Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest also offers the HIV saliva test, but not often, according to Jet Tilley, director of public policy. Most of the 180 clients who received tests last year opted for the blood tests because they were poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, which does not cover the $68 fee for the rapid test.
James Breedlove, director of the nonprofit HIV/AIDS Speakers Bureau, worries that the quick test is too expensive. HIV infection is growing fastest among youth, with 50 percent of new cases recorded among those ages 15-24, according to CDC statistics. "They don't have the money and they're not going to ask mom or dad to get tested," Breedlove noted.
Local health officials believe between 750 and 1,250 HIV-positive people live in Spokane County, including 200-300 who do not know they are infected.