Staff at the McGregor Clinic see the faces of HIV and AIDS every day. The non-profit practice is on the front lines of the epidemic, helping the medically and financially needy. The CDC estimates 1.2 million people in this country are living with HIV. One in five don’t know it.
“Our goal needs to be ‘test and treat’. Test these people, get them into care,” says Dr. Marshall D’Souza, HIV specialist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Earlier this year, the FDA approved the first rapid, take-home HIV test.
“It’s an OraQuick- so there’s no needle, there’s no blood, it’s a swab inside the mouth. There’s a double line if it’s positive so they get a result very quickly in the privacy of their own home,” says Sharon Murphy, executive director of the McGregor Clinic.
Quick and painless, yes. One of the downsides is the saliva test comes back with a lot of false negatives because the viral load is too low to be detected.
“If the test is negative, it may be an early infection. Sometimes the test can take as long as three months or sometimes as long as six months to become positive. So a negative test does not mean that there is no HIV. The test needs to be repeated,” says Dr. D’Souza.
Researchers in the UK believe they’ve come up with a better way. Cheaper and faster, it is a highly sensitive blood test that turns color in the presence of an HIV biomarker called p-24. The test will first be used in third world countries. Experts are optimistic that anything that leads to early detection and treatment is a good thing.
“Our client population increases by 20 percent every year. So that is staggering for us. We know that’s it’s preventable, we know what should be done, but people are still at risk and still being exposed,” says Murphy.