June 24, 2005
New York's state Health Department recently issued new guidelines calling for the use of the rapid oral HIV test that delivers results in 20 minutes after a mouth swab. The aim is to make the test simpler so more people are diagnosed early. CDC estimates about one in four Americans who are HIV-positive do not know it.
Until last month, the state's HIV testing guidelines called for a half-hour of counseling prior to a blood test that took up to a week for results. The new guidelines require a pamphlet beforehand that explains the test and HIV transmission, and test results are delivered in under 30 minutes.
Department spokesperson Rob Kenny said, "We are seeking to reach as many individuals who may be at risk as possible," adding that the state is hoping to attract more blacks and Hispanics, who comprise a large percentage of the newly diagnosed. In 2003 in New York, blacks accounted for 50 percent of new cases; Hispanics composed 28 percent, according to the department's most recent data. Of the 129 new cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2003, approximately 43 percent were black and about 21 percent were Hispanic.
"What the state is saying is make it simple and less time-consuming," said Dr. Shaheda Iftikhar, head of infectious diseases in the patient care division of the Suffolk County health department. Dr. Getachew Feleke, chief of infectious disease at Nassau University Medical Center, said counseling and the old blood test at NUMC cost patients $100. The oral test costs the hospital $10, and without counseling, Feleke expects the total cost will be less.
For free confidential testing in Nassau County, telephone 516-571-2019. For free anonymous testing by the state Department of Health in Nassau and Suffolk, telephone 800-462-6786.