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L.A. health officials urge HIV testing and counseling in bathhouses

L.A. health officials urge HIV testing and counseling in bathhouses

Health officials in Los Angeles are recommending expanding HIV antibody testing and counseling in the city's sex clubs and bathhouses and the launch of other prevention efforts targeting patrons of such businesses after a study showed that bathhouse patrons are twice as likely to be HIV-positive than men who do not visit such establishments, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study, conducted by researchers at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and presented at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, showed that of the 916 men tested at two Los Angeles bathhouses between May 2001 and December 2002, 11% tested positive for HIV infection. Only about 5.5% of men who were tested at public clinics and HIV service organizations in Los Angeles received positive test results. Only about 60% of the men who were tested at the bathhouses returned to pick up their results. Health officials say expanded HIV testing at such venues using OraSure Technologies' recently approved OraQuick rapid HIV test kits, which provide results in about 20 minutes, could lower that number--and encourage more bathhouse patrons to get tested because results would be quickly available. "It's a great place to do more intervention and prevention work," said Trista Bingham, director of the study and an epidemiologist with the county Department of Health Services. She added that bathhouses and sex clubs might be an ideal place to test and educate bisexual men and closeted gay men who might not be comfortable in seeking testing or HIV prevention messages from their health care providers or in public clinics.

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