California: Veterans Affairs Offers Quick HIV Tests for Vets
April 2, 2008
The Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System is hoping to encourage more veterans to get tested for HIV by offering 20-minute HIV tests at its downtown ambulatory care center. "HIV testing is the gateway to life-saving therapy," Dr. Earl Tso, a primary care physician at the center, said at the Tuesday launch of the outreach effort.
Previously, veterans who wanted to be tested for HIV had to have their blood drawn, which was then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Up to one-third of patients failed to return for results with this type of testing, studies have shown. The rapid testing involves swabbing a patient's gums and cheeks; the swab is then inserted into a chemical solution that detects HIV antibodies.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation's largest health care provider, treats more HIV-positive patients than any other U.S. health care system. Dr. Matthew Goetz, chief of infectious disease at the VA's West Los Angeles Healthcare Center, said veterans are at a slightly higher risk for HIV than the general population.
Goetz said the outreach grew from an ongoing study of HIV-positive veterans indicating that half of those newly diagnosed learn of their infection only after it advanced sufficiently to send them to the emergency room.
The local VA system selected the downtown center on Temple Street near Alameda Street due to its proximity to skid row, which has a large population of homeless veterans, said Goetz. The VA estimates that one-third of homeless adults nationwide are veterans, and 70 percent of these vets have drug or alcohol problems. Behaviors like needle sharing and unprotected sex, which are often linked to homelessness, increase the risk of HIV infection.
Los Angeles Times
3.02.2008; Mary Engle
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