Health officials in Seattle last week began a trial run of using rapid HIV testing kits in public settings to help determine how people will react to receiving their results in public, The Boston Globe reports. The Seattle study is hoping to lay the groundwork for expanded rapid testing in such venues as gay bathhouses and sex clubs. The OraQuick rapid tests being used can provide results in about 20 minutes. Seattle health officials are concerned that those who receive a positive test result in a public venue may not have immediate access to needed post-test counseling on how to cope with the diagnosis and on the next steps to take to get medical care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in April that the agency is diverting funding and other resources to more widespread HIV testing programs in an effort to identify the estimated one third of the nation's 1 million HIV-positive people who are unaware that they are infected. The agency is urging local health departments and HIV/AIDS organizations to use the rapid HIV tests to help encourage people to be tested and to wait just 20 minutes for their results.
Standard HIV tests often require those being tested to wait up to a week or longer for their results, and studies have shown that a high percentage of people tested never return to receive their results. A previous study in Seattle offered standard HIV antibody tests at three gay venues in the city but required the men being tested to return a week later to receive their results. Of the 56 men whose blood samples tested positive for HIV antibodies, 15 did not return for their results. "If we had been using a rapid test, those people would have at least received preliminary positive results and would have been informed of the need to return to our clinic for confirmatory results," said Frank Chaffee, HIV/AIDS program manager for the Seattle-King County department of public health.
But some AIDS activists are worried that the new CDC rapid testing initiative does not include adequate pre- and post-test counseling components, particularly for those who test in public places like bars, sex clubs, and bathhouses where trained HIV/AIDS counselors are not on hand. CDC officials say the agency is reviewing its counseling strategies but note that they still believe widespread use of the rapid tests needs to begin soon.