FDA approves new rapid HIV test

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new rapid HIV diagnostic test kit that provides results with 99.6% accuracy in as little as 20 minutes.

Using less than a drop of blood collected, this new test can quickly and reliably detect antibodies to HIV-1, the HIV virus that causes infection in most cases in the United States. Unlike other antibody tests for HIV, the test can be stored at room temperature, requires no specialized equipment, and may be considered for use outside of traditional laboratory or clinical settings.

The newly approved HIV test is The OraQuick Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test, manufactured by OraSure Technologies Inc. in Bethlehem, PA.

Federal officials note that each year, 8,000 HIV-infected people who come to public clinics for HIV tests do not return to receive their test results. The new test will allow the results while the patient is present, enabling practitioners to start treatment immediately.

To perform the test, a fingerstick sample of blood is collected from an individual and transferred to a vial where it is mixed with a developing solution.

The test device, which resembles a dipstick, is then inserted into the vial. In as little as 20 minutes, the test device will indicate if HIV-1 antibodies are present in the solution by displaying two reddish-purple lines in a small window on the device.

Although the results of rapid screenings will be reported in point-of-care settings, as with all screening tests for HIV, if the OraQuick test gives a reactive test result, that result must be confirmed with an additional specific test. The OraQuick test has not been approved to screen blood donors.

FDA waiver available

The FDA currently categorizes the OraQuick test as "moderate complexity" under the Clinical Laboratory Improvements Amendments of 1988 (CLIA).

Under CLIA, new tests are categorized as either moderate or high complexity. This designation means that the OraQuick test only can be given in CLIA-approved labs by CLIA-certified laboratory technicians or medical staff.

If the test manufacturer applies for a CLIA waiver, the FDA can evaluate it for use under less stringent conditions.

Federal officials are urging the OraSure company to apply for a CLIA waiver. If the FDA finds that the company’s data proves that the OraQuick test is both easy and safe to use, it can get a CLIA waiver.

Then the test could be given in many more health care settings, perhaps even administered by social workers in HIV counseling centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preven-tion (CDC) has estimated that one-fourth of the approximately 900,000 HIV-infected people in the United States are not aware that they are infected.

Because of the potential public health benefits of rapid HIV testing, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are working with state and other health officials to make the test widely available and to offer technical assistance and counseling training for its use.

"This test will be a great help in identifying pregnant HIV-infected women going into labor who were not tested during pregnancy so that precautionary steps can be take to block their newborns from being infected with HIV," says FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford, MD.

"It will also be a critical resource in helping identify HIV infection in health care and emergency workers who are accidentally exposed to HIV-infected blood while doing their job," he says.