Some Walgreens Now Offering HIV Tests
June 27, 2012

Some Walgreens Now Offering HIV Tests

Lee Rannals for

People in certain parts of America will now be able to stroll on down to their local Walgreens and get tested for HIV through a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pilot program.

Walgreens will be offering free, rapid HIV tests in a small number of pharmacies as part of a two-year CDC program to make testing for the disease more convenient and accessible.

The company said on Tuesday that it will initially offer the tests in pharmacies in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as a clinic in Lithonia, Georgia.

“I´m excited. It´s such a new and novel thing for us,” Sarah Freedman, who manages a Walgreens in Washington, D.C., told the Associated Press (AP).

Walgreens said it will offer patients who receive a positive result a reference to a local healthcare provider for further confirmation.

"Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check," Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said 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."

According to the CDC, 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, but nearly 20 percent of them do not even know it.

One of the challenges in diagnosing HIV is that some people are able to live with the infection for years without developing symptoms.

Having accessibility to community pharmacies and retail clinics could play a critical role in helping to diagnose HIV in patients, CDC said.

Millions of Americans enter pharmacies every week, and 30 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic.

"Compared to health care settings and conventional HIV testing sites, these locations may provide an environment that is more accessible to persons who may be anxious about seeking an HIV test," the CDC said.

CDC said that throughout the program, it will be providing training for staff in community pharmacies and retail clinics in 12 urban areas and 12 rural areas with high HIV prevalence or significant unmet HIV testing needs.

Training will focus on how to deliver rapid HIV testing and counseling for those who test positive for the infection.

The program will also be extending beyond Walgreens, and into other pharmacies and in-store clinics in 24 cities and rural communities across the U.S. Tests are already available at seven places, and the CDC said it will be picking 17 more locations.

Each location will get enough of the $17.50 tests to check 200 to 300 people. The test is the only government-approved rapid HIV test that uses saliva.

The HIV test swabs the inside of the mouth, then takes about 20 minutes to produce a preliminary result. The test maker says it is 99 percent accurate.

Once the project ends, CDC officials said they will be analyzing what worked well, and what did not, according to Paul Weidle, the epidemiologist who is heading up the project.

Freedman told the AP that only three or four customers have gone through with the test in the first few weeks so far at the Washington D.C. Walgreens.