ANNOUNCER: Although HIV and AIDS has received a lot of attention over the last two decades, many people have never been tested for HIV antibodies. And simply knowing whether or not you're infected remains one of the greatest weapons in fighting the spread of the HIV virus.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: In the United States where upwards of a million people are infected, it's estimated that somewhere between a third and maybe 40 to 50 percent don't know they're infected with the virus.
It's important to know that you're HIV positive for two reasons. One, you want to be able to protect your lovers, protect your partners, protect, perhaps, your baby, if you're pregnant. But a second very important reason is we now have very effective therapies that you can take if you're infected.
ANNOUNCER: In the past, it was thought that only groups of people who were considered high-risk needed to be screened. But the current thinking is that everyone should be tested for HIV.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: Virtually anyone can be at risk for this virus. So we'd like to take testing out of the realm of only something that we do under very limited situations for very limited groups of people and we offer it as a standard test in hospitals or in a doctor's office, at least a test that your doctor should discuss with you.
ANNOUNCER: There are two major classes of HIV tests.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: What most people commonly refer to as an HIV test or, colloquially, as an AIDS test is a test for antibodies to the virus. And, in this disease, unlike virtually any other disease, if you have antibodies to the virus, you have that virus active in your blood.
The second type of test is testing for the virus itself. Those tests are a bit more complicated. They're usually only done if we already know that you have antibodies against the virus and we want to measure how much virus do you have floating around in your blood.
ANNOUNCER: The standard HIV tests were first developed in 1985, and while highly accurate, they are also time consuming.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: If someone requests a test for HIV or a physician orders one, there's first, some pretest counseling that is done.
Then, typically, a blood sample is drawn. And you go through a waiting period. That waiting period, depending on the clinic may be anywhere from a week to two weeks. And during that period of time, a screening test is done known as an ELISA test, which tests for antibodies against the virus itself. And, if that test is negative, then no further testing is done.
If that test turns out to be positive, it's incredibly important for the laboratory to determine if that's a true positive or just some false positive, and that second test is called a Western blot.
And when the results of the ELISA and the Western blot are obtained by the laboratory and sent to your physician or a testing service, they then call you and say the results are available, and typically, you get the result in person, where you receive post-test counseling.
ANNOUNCER: While effective, the ELISA and Western blot tests, have some flaws. Standard HIV tests require drawing of a blood sample which can be a deterrent for some people. Additionally, standard HIV tests are at least a two-appointment process: the first for pretest counseling and the drawing of blood, and the second to get the results. This results in perhaps the biggest roadblock in HIV testing: the waiting period between when the blood is drawn and the results are determined, which can sometimes take up to two weeks.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: Many, many people never show up to get their test results. Even if you're highly motivated to come in and you get your blood drawn, this idea of, "I'm going to have to wait a week or two, in some clinics, more than that, to get my results" turns off a lot of people.
And some people just get worried, they get scared, they say, "You know, I wanted to know then, but I really don't want to know now."
ANNOUNCER: But recently, the FDA has approved two new rapid HIV tests which may help overcome these flaws.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: One of them, the one that's most available, is a blood test, but rather than taking a tube of blood from your arm, you take a pinprick from your finger. And that test takes only about fifteen to twenty minutes.
The sensitivity of this test, on the first run, just like the ELISA test for a standard blood sample, is identical to what it is for the standard test that takes much longer.
There's a second test which is much newer; it has only been approved by the US FDA now for about six months. And that's an oral test, whereas instead of looking for antibodies in your blood the way the rapid test does, the way the standard test does, we can look for the same types of antibodies in fluids in your mouth: saliva and another type of fluid that's secreted by the salivary glands. And that test is also highly accurate.
So with the availability of rapid tests, either using a small pinprick blood sample or an oral fluid sample, we can get you those test results while you're sitting there waiting in the physician's office, literally within fifteen to twenty minutes.
ANNOUNCER: The development of rapid HIV tests represent another advancement in the fight against HIV and AIDS. And healthcare professionals agree that testing is the crucial first step in preventing the spread of HIV.
JEFFREY LAURENCE, MD: I think HIV testing is important for everyone.Clearly, there's the psychological comfort of knowing that you're HIV negative or potentially HIV positive. But there's also a public health issue of not spreading the virus, and an individual issue of getting that test and getting that information and using that information and getting the person into treatment.
For additional information on HIV testing please consult these resources: www.hivtest.org, www.knowhivaids.org, 1.866.344.KNOW.