WASHINGTON – A Baltimore center will be among the first places in Maryland to offer a new rapid HIV test when it begins the service on Valentine’s Day.
The OraQuick Rapid HIV-1 test, which cuts the time for patients to receive the results of their HIV tests from about seven days to around 20 minutes, will be available at a few testing sites in the state within the week and statewide soon thereafter, said Liza Solomon, the director of the Maryland AIDS Administration.
Jeffrey Green, an HIV and outreach worker at Baltimore’s Imani Center, said that it will administer the OraQuick test beginning Friday.
Center workers, who were given the test and training by a representative from Avid Laboratories a few weeks ago, planned to start testing last week as part of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness week but the recent snowstorm ruined their plans.
The much faster test has been heralded as a way to keep patients in the office to obtain the results of their test. Now many patients never return to see if they test positive.
“You might get test 30 people in a month and get 16 people to come back one month and 10 people the next,” Green said. “Everybody wants it (the test) and we’re the ones that happen to have it right now. Everybody knows the significance of this.”
The new test is going to have an immediate and large impact on the center, which tests about 25-30 people a month, he said.
“This is going to be of big significance, big significance ” Green said. “A lot of people know now that just because you have HIV doesn’t mean you’re going to die, and they’ll be able to get into the services quickly.”
Baltimore has the highest HIV incidence rate, or new case rate, in Maryland with 967 of the state’s roughly 1,800 new cases in 2001 according to the latest Maryland HIV/AIDS Epidemiological Profile.
About 90,000 people receive HIV testing at publicly funded testing centers in Maryland every year, but 50 percent of those people never come back to receive the results, placing them at risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus to others and not receiving critical treatment immediately, Solomon said. The OraQuick is a fingerstick test similar to the test many diabetes use to check their blood sugar. Blood samples used in the test must be kept at room temperature and completely still during the 20 minutes it takes to receive results. It is supposed to be about 99.6 percent accurate.
The test was recently approved for use outside of laboratory settings by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and could be available at about 100,000 testing centers nationwide.
About 225,000 people nationwide are infected with the HIV virus and are unaware of it, according to figures from HHS press releases.
Solomon said that because the waiver for use by clinics only came a week ago the state has not been inundated with requests from local clinics for the test, and has not decided exactly which clinics will receive the test.
OraQuick comes in boxes of 25 and 100 and would probably cost about $15 per test for the state, Solomon said. Since the tests usually remain viable for about six months they might not be a viable option for some clinics that do not see a large number of individuals requesting HIV tests, or at clinics where a blood test is still the primary means of testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The OraQuick test is more expensive than regular HIV testing and must still be confirmed by a separate laboratory test, she said. Some funding is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for administering the test.