Federal board to weigh new HIV examination

The wait for HIV test results traditionally lasts roughly a week, but results may soon be available within 20 minutes of testing.

A federal advisory board will meet Thursday to discuss a proposal by Pennsylvania-based OraSure Technologies to make their new HIV test — an oral antibody that functions like a home pregnancy test — available over the counter. The OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test, distributed by OraSure, simply requires users to swab their gums and then place the swab in a holder. Twenty minutes later, the holder will display one line for negative results and two for positives.

While the technology may soon be available from select health clinics nationwide if it is approved this week, Yale University Health Services has no definite plans to purchase the antibody prior to its approval, Chief of Student Medicine James Perlotto said.

“I am glad these methods are being perfected and made available,” Perlotto said. “But at Yale there are no cost or availability issues, so we want to offer the highest level of testing available.”

Perlotto said the over-the-counter availability of the new OraQuick test may be useful for those who are medically uninsured or do not have access to clinicians. But because all students at Yale have access to free HIV testing and counseling, he said YUHS prefers to use a more standard procedure to screen for the virus — the “ELISA” blood test, which is more sensitive to HIV antibodies. There have also been questions within the medical community regarding the reliability of OraQuick and other new testing procedures, Perlotto said.

YUHS also offers counseling to patients who comes in for HIV screening, but at-home tests will leave patients without the counseling resources offered by a clinic, YUHS HIV counselor Sally Rinaldi said. Though some students may prefer the speed of the OraQuick test, having someone to talk to is one advantage that makes the waiting period worthwhile, she said.

“The counseling offered is beneficial for helping students through the anxiety of the wait period,” Rinaldi said.

But Yale Aids Watch coordinator Marissa Cohler ’06 said counseling is not as important to students today as it was 10 or 20 years ago, because treatment technology and options have improved. Clinics first began offering HIV counseling more widely to prevent patients from harming or killing themselves after testing positive, Cohler said.

“I understand why counseling is offered,” she said. “But because HIV does not carry the same death sentence today as it did before, I think it is less important.”

Cohler said she thinks YUHS should offer the OraQuick test to students. She said it will motivate additional testing because it offers a greater degree of anonymity.

Both Perlotto and Rinaldi said they believe there is a relatively low need for such a test on campus because all Yale students, whether insured privately or under the university’s health plan, have access to free HIV screening and counseling and do not need to buy their own test.

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