(dailyRx News) If you could walk into your local pharmacy and get tested for HIV as easily as you get your annual flu shot, would you be more likely to learn your status?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out a pilot project to make HIV testing more convenient and accessible across the country.
Starting with pharmacies in Chicago, Washington DC, and Lithonia, Georgia, the CDC will train pharmacists and nurse practitioners to administer the test.
Walgreen's pharmacy already offers free HIV testing a few days each year as part of outreach campaigns in partnership with local health departments and HIV/AIDS organizations.
The CDC plans to install HIV testing as a permanent offering in urban and rural areas around the country.
Currently, seven locations have been chosen to participate in the two year pilot program. Seventeen more sites will be selected by the end of this summer.
The results of the program will be used to make decisions about long-term testing strategies.
“Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention in a statement. “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.”
The CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans have HIV/AIDS. For testing, they focus on the statistic that one in five people who are HIV positive do not know their status.
This infected and undiagnosed population is the most concerning to public health officials.
Someone who does not know that they have HIV could be engaging in the same risky behaviors that gave them their infection, and then transmitting the virus to others.
When undiagnosed and untreated, HIV is more likely to progress into AIDS. By the time a person is sick, he or she could have missed the window in which the condition could have been successfully treated.
The program uses an HIV rapid test that delivers results in only 20 minutes. Typically, a simple swab test uses oral fluid samples from the gums or cheeks to detect HIV antibodies with over 99 percent accuracy.
“We know that getting people tested, diagnosed and linked to care are critical steps in reducing new HIV infections,” Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in a press release. “By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and also reduce the stigma associated with HIV."