One in five people is unsure whether they’re HIV positive, but thanks to an initiative through the Charleston Area Medical Center, getting tested has never been cheaper or more convenient.
The CAMC Ryan White Program, which was launched on National HIV Testing Day, June 27, offers free take-home HIV testing kits to the public. Christine Teague, CAMC Ryan White Program director, said the agency offers the same type of home testing kits that can be purchased at a pharmacy, and follow-up testing and counseling in the event of a positive result.
“It’s just another mechanism to make it easy for people to get the test and feel comfortable obtaining one, because currently, one in five people in the U.S. do not know their status, and it’s important to get tested if you’re unsure,” she said. “With the advent of different treatment options, we can catch it much earlier and better manage the disease.”
Teague said HIV/AIDS, which weakens the immune system and leaves sufferers vulnerable to many other diseases and types of cancer, affects as many as 2,000 West Virginians. Common modes of transmission include unprotected sex, used hypodermic needles, contaminated blood transfusions and from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.
“West Virginia has a low prevalence rate; our rate of the disease is less than .01 percent, whereas in other states, it can be much higher,” she said. “It can be found more prevalently in some areas, and some populations are higher risk.”
The program, like many across the nation, is named for Ryan White, a teenager from Indiana who became infected with HIV after a botched blood transfusion and died in 1990.
The test the program offers is an oral swab that is applied to the upper and lower gums. Teague said the test gives a result after 20 minutes, but that users should check the test before 40 minutes have elapsed.
“There’s a critical window during which it needs to be read,” she said. “The test looks for the presence of antibodies to the HIV virus, and after exposure, your body doesn’t produce antibodies until about four to six weeks after exposure. The kit should not be used until three months after a potential exposure.”
Tests can be obtained by visiting the outpatient care center on CAMC’s fourth floor Monday through Thursday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department offers a similar test kit that is administered by staff at the agency. Candace Nunley, office manager for clinical operations at the KCHD, said if the initial test is positive, the staff then does a follow-up test and a blood draw that is sent to a state lab for a western blot test to confirm a diagnosis.
“The mouth swab, as with anything, isn’t 100 percent accurate,” Nunley said. “Once we have two positive tests, we refer them to the Ryan White program, who will perform their follow up.”
The KCHD offers the tests during their Sexually Transmitted Disease clinic, which are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nunley said that walk-ins are accepted for the testing during those hours.
“We offer these tests confidentially, and we adhere to that very strictly,” she said. “Once they come in, we register them privately, and we take them to a private exam room to go over everything with them.”
The CAMC Ryan White program is funded through the Ryan White Part C grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant supports comprehensive outpatient care for patients in 19 counties in southern West Virginia and currently serves more than 300 patients. For more information, visit www.camc.org/ryanwhite.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.