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New Home Quick-Tests May Reveal More HIV in Hawaii

January 15, 2013, 5:24 PM HST (Updated January 16, 2013, 2:41 PM)
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In 2009, the Hawaii Legislature amended state law to ensure that written informed consent and pre-test counseling were no longer required of health care providers administering HIV testing.

This, combined with legislation a year prior requiring name-based HIV reporting by health care providers and laboratories, has helped to both increase the number of residents being tested, and to get a better idea of how many people in the islands are living with HIV and/or AIDS.

Now there is one more tool available in the islands in the fight against these diseases, and it is available to nearly every resident (and visitor) to use at their own discretion.

In July of 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a testing system called the “OraQuick test, by OraSure Technologies.”

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The test, available without a prescription to everyone over the age of 17, is performed by swabbing the gums of the person being tested, then submerging the test kit in a provided solution for 20-40 minutes to obtain a result.

Results appear as bars on the test kit itself, in a manner somewhat similar to home pregnancy tests.

It is not an error-proof system, however. While 99.98% of HIV-negative individuals will experience an accurate result, up to 8% of HIV-positive (infected) individuals will yield a result that falsely indicates they do not carry the disease.

Positive results from the OraQuick test must be confirmed by bloodwork through your health care provider. Image courtesy University of Utah.

Positive results from the OraQuick test must be confirmed by bloodwork through your health care provider. Image courtesy University of Utah.

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Positive results must be confirmed by further blood testing, and health care providers warn that it can take a minimum of three months after acquiring HIV for a person to test positively for infection.

The FDA spent nearly seven years mulling the approval of the drug, which was deemed controversial in the first years of its development.

But despite its drawbacks, the test offers the first opportunity for individuals to test themselves and their partners at their leisure, while obtaining a fast same-day result. Prior to the oral-swab method, home testing required obtaining a blood sample and mailing the kit in to be lab-tested.

OraQuick test kits began being distributed to retailers and pharmacies in October of 2012, and knowledge of its availability is still limited. A quick telephone survey by Big Island Now found only a few retailers carrying the product, and limited knowledge of it by store staff. One pharmacist was not even aware it was available for purchase in her store until we called to inquire.

In Hawaii, 2,425 persons were reportedly living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2011. Most of those infected were men (88%) between the ages of 25 and 44 (66%) at the time of diagnosis. The majority of individuals in these cases were of Caucasian descent, a trend counter to the rest of the nation, where African Americans suffer a disproportionately high rate of infection.

Although treatments for HIV and AIDS continue to improve, early diagnosis of HIV remains critical to both extending the patients lifespan and limiting their risk for transmitting the disease to others.

The newly available test kits offer the most convenient and discrete method yet available to help identify people needing treatment.

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