ATLANTA >> Would you go to a drugstore to get tested for HIV?
Health officials want to know, and they’ve set up a pilot program to find out.
The $1.2 million program will offer free rapid HIV tests at pharmacies and in-store clinics in 24 cities and rural communities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.
Drugstores now offer blood pressure checks, flu shots and a few other types of health services. Officials are hoping testing for the AIDS virus will become another routine service.
"By bringing HIV testing into pharmacies, we believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and reduce the stigma associated with HIV," CDC’s Dr. Kevin Fenton said in a statement. He oversees the agency’s HIV prevention programs.
The tests are already available at seven places, and the CDC will soon pick 17 more locations.
The HIV test is a swab inside the mouth and takes about 20 minutes for a preliminary result. If the test is positive, customers will be referred to a local health department or other health-care providers for a blood test to confirm the results, counseling and treatment.
When the project ends next summer, CDC officials will analyze what worked well and what didn’t, said Paul Weidle, the epidemiologist who is heading up the project.
An estimated 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, but as many as 20 percent of them don’t know they carry the virus, according to the CDC. It can take a decade or more for an infection to cause symptoms and illness.