THE WEIGHT OF THE WAIT 

If you've had an AIDS test, you're familiar with the often agonizing two-week wait for the results, assuming that you followed up to see if you were infected. Now a new test, offered for free by the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, allows you to learn your HIV status in 20 minutes.

OraQuick, distributed by Abbott Laboratories, earned FDA approval for the rapid-response test last November. It has a 99.6 percent accuracy rate.

Although the Foundation is offering OraQuick, the San Antonio Health Department is not. A health department clinician said officials are discussing it.

The exam is similar to those used by diabetics to test blood sugar. A nurse uses a fingerstick to draw a small amount of blood. The sample is then placed in a solution, and that goes into a kit that resembles a pregnancy test. Within 20 to 60 minutes, the test is complete. Two red lines indicate that the person has tested positive for exposure to HIV.

Clinicians, nurses, and doctors found that the waiting period associated with the old testing method dissuades people from coming back for the results. Many people forget to return or get cold feet. In the meantime, those who are infected and have unprotected sex or share needles can unknowingly infect others. The OraQuick test allows HIV-infected people to get treatment earlier in the course of the disease and

The exam is similar to those used by diabetics to test blood sugar. A nurse uses a fingerstick to draw a small amount of blood.
to avoid passing it to others. The Foundation refers those who test HIV-positive to early intervention clinics, private doctors, or counselors.

According to the Center for Disease Control, one-quarter of the 900,000 people with HIV in the United States don't know they are infected.

"If someone has a positive test result, we have that person in the office and don't have to worry if he or she is coming back," said Cathy Novak, director of education at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation.

The Foundation uses private donations and grants to underwrite the cost, which is $11 per exam. Novak added that the non-profit group performs about 50 tests each month, but that number could increase with the new, more efficient method.

San Antonio AIDS Foundation administers the test either on an anonymous or confidential basis. Those who wish to remain anonymous are identified by a number; those who take the test confidentially use their names, but they are not disclosed. If the person tests positive, the San Antonio Health Department may use that information to contact former partners, but doesn't reveal the name of the person who might have infected them.

Teenagers can also receive the test without their parents' consent.

"Our biggest increase `in HIV cases` is among 13- to 24 year-olds," Novak said. "Teens often have trouble with transportation and have a hard time coming back for the results. Now we can do it in one stop."

Texas Department of Health statistics show that at the end of 2001, nearly 2,500 people in Bexar County were living with HIV or AIDS. According to the Metro Health AIDS Surveillance Report, of the 4,100 Bexar Countians diagnosed with the disease since 1981, more than 2,200 have died.

And last year, an additional 96 cases of AIDS were reported through June. Data for the remainder of 2002 is not yet available. These numbers don't include people who are infected with HIV, but haven't developed AIDS.

Beverly Ray, a TDH nurse consultant, said that no groups that receive TDH funding currently use OraQuick. Many organizations were waiting for the FDA to grant another waiver for the test, which allows it to be used in places that don't have their own labs or that aren't affiliated with one. The FDA recently granted the waiver. "It's fairly new," Ray said. "We're thinking of picking a few test sites across the state to see how it works out."

Ray added that critics of OraQuick point out that a person who tests positive must have a second test to confirm the results. "Some say we have to draw blood `for a second test` anyway and then people have to wait longer for the confirmation. There are ramifications of that."

However, the ramifications of not knowing are much graver. •

To schedule an appointment for a test, call 225-4715.


TWENTY YEARS OF AIDS IN BEXAR COUNTY From 1980 to 1999, more than 55,000 AIDS cases have been reported in Texas; more than 28,000 of these people have died. Texas ranked fourth highest in the U.S. for AIDS cases that were reported in 1999. Here are the Bexar County reported AIDS cases, 1981-June 2002. These do not include persons living with HIV whose disease has not progressed into AIDS. Here are the Bexar County reported AIDS cases, 1981-June 2002. These do not include persons living with HIV whose disease has not progressed into AIDS.

Race/ethnicityAdultsAdolescentsPediatric
White1,55078
Black50267
Hispanic2,0621711
Asian/Pacific Islander910
American Indian/Alaskan600
Unknown500

Risk Groups AdultsMaleFemale
Homosexual/bisexual men2,6830
IV drug user32588
Homosexual/bi and IV drug user3060
Hemophiliac231
Heterosexual contact185192
Blood transfusion3613
Other22656

Risk Groups AdolescentsMaleFemale
Homosexual/bisexual men90
IV drug user21
Homosexual/bi and IV drug user10
Hemophiliac110
Heterosexual contact03
Blood transfusion00
Other456

Source: San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department

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