ATLANTA — Getting an AIDS test at the drugstore could become as common as a flu shot or blood pressure check, if a new pilot program takes off.
The $1.2 million program will offer the 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.
"We believe we can reach more people by making testing more accessible and reduce the stigma associated with HIV," Dr. Kevin Fenton, who oversees the agency's HIV prevention programs, said in a statement.
The tests are already available at seven places, including Washington, D.C., Oakland, Calif., and an Indian health service clinic in Montana. The CDC will soon pick 17 more locations.
The HIV test is a swab inside the mouth; it takes about 20 minutes for a preliminary result. The test maker says it's correct 99 percent of the time. If the test is positive for the AIDS virus, pharmacy employees will refer customers to a local health department or other health care providers for a lab blood test to confirm the results, counseling and treatment. The workers are expected to deliver the news face-to-face and give customers privacy, the CDC said.
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.
Since 2006, the CDC has recommended that all Americans ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once.But fewer than half of adults younger than 65 have been tested, according to the agency's most recent statistics.