ATLANTA — Would you go to a drugstore to get tested for AIDS?
Health officials want to know, and they're setting up a pilot program to find out.
The program is being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will use the information gleaned from the testing to develop a nationwide model for pharmacists and nurse practitioners to detect the virus that causes AIDS.
Drug store chain Walgreen said on Tuesday it will initially offer the tests in some of its pharmacies in Washington, D.C., and Chicago and in a clinic in Lithonia, Georgia. In cases where a test shows a positive result, Walgreen will refer the patient to a local health care provider for further confirmation and care.
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"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected."
Bioethicist Art Caplan argues that without a doctor’s attention, HIV screening could do more harm than good.
“Unlike glucose monitoring or blood pressure, a positive HIV test is something that requires adequate counseling and support,” says Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center and an msnbc.com columnist. “Moreover a positive or negative test needs to be accompanied by a reminder about the importance of safe sex and the need to disclose any positive result to your doctor for following up testing and further counseling.”
Bioethicist: At-home HIV test raises questions
CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans have HIV, but nearly 20 percent of them don't know they are infected. One of the primary challenges in HIV diagnosis is that people can live with the infection for years without developing symptoms.
Late diagnosis, and development of the disease to full-blown AIDS, often means that many have already transmitted the disease to partners and have missed a critical window for receiving life-extending medical care.
The test involves a swab of the inside of the mouth and the results are ready in about 20 minutes. The CDC is already offering the free tests in seven drugstores and plans to expand to more locations this summer.
Health officials estimate that 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, but as many as 20 percent of them don't know they carry the virus. The government is spending $1.2 million on the project.
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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report