HIV Home Test A “Double Edged Sword”

Kudos to Great Falls Tribune Reporter Michael Beall for writing about the newly approved Rapid HIV Home Test- and asking Montanans in the field what they think about it.

Greg Smith, the executive director of AIDS Outreach in Bozeman, said he and others have mixed feelings about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve the first over-the-counter HIV test kits.

English: Logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Admini...

English: Logo of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2006) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I think it’s great that people will have access to testing,” said Smith, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. “But my concern is that they wouldn’t have the support that we offer in community-based testing situations.”

The OraQuick test is similar to the OraSure tests health clinics use and detects the presence of HIV in saliva. It returns results within 20 to 40 minutes.

The test is as simple as swabbing the upper and lower gums and inserting the test stick into a solution.

But Smith said the home test is a double-edged sword.

“On one hand, information is great, but on the other we need to provide that information so that it’s received well,” he said. “We want that support there.”

Trisha Gardner, City County Health Department community health education specialist, said reviews of the test are overwhelmingly positive, but she’s concerned because those who take the tests at home and test positive won’t have someone there to help them know what to do next. At the same time, she knows how important testing is to stopping the spread of the disease.

“You can’t do anything to control the spread of it if you don’t know you have it,” Gardner said. “People will be more likely to (get tested) because they don’t have to go in anywhere. They don’t have to be seen.”

Full story here.

‘Montanans With HIV’ makes the paper

Map of USA with Montana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

The Great Falls Tribune yesterday did a featured story on HIV in Montana with several sidebars on testing and the classification of the disease from AIDS to HIV stages 1-3. Along with Trisha Gardner of the Cascade County Health Department, Dean Wells of the Yellowstone AIDS Project and an anonymous man living with HIV in Great Falls, I was interviewed for the piece, which, among other things, focused on the stigma of persons living with HIV in the state.

Excerpt:

On average, about 20 Montanans are diagnosed with the disease every year, said Trisha Gardner, community health education specialist and HIV case manager at the Cascade City-County Health Department.

“The number of newly diagnosed cases has held pretty steady every year,” Gardner said.

Overall, the number of people in Montana living with HIV is increasing because they are living longer, she said.

While that number is on the rise, most in Montana never publicly disclose they have HIV, Gardner said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “For the most part it’s kept a pretty private issue.”

Many who live with the disease in Montana fear losing their jobs, friends or family, and even becoming a social outcast.

“My view is that the stigma definitely reduced over the years, but it’s still there,” said Dean Wells, executive director of the Yellowstone AIDS Project in Billings. “Many of our clients live in fear of someone finding out about it.”

John, a pseudonym because he fears losing his livelihood, was diagnosed with HIV eight and a half years ago.

Trying to be honest and open after his diagnosis, John told his employer.

“It wasn’t a week later, they asked me to find another job,” he said.

Fear and stigma is still with us but there’s a lot of hope in current HIV treatment and prevention.
The key is to get tested. HIV unsuppressed in the body does damage- sometimes very significant damage- which  cannot be reversed by treatment.