March 6, 2003

Gannett to Offer Oral HIV Tests

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Orasure, the latest HIV antibody testing option available at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, may decrease anxiety for individuals thinking of getting tested for HIV.

Orasure is an oral HIV-1 antibody test that painlessly extracts antibodies from the tissues in the mouth without using needles or drawing blood.


“Getting tested for HIV can be a very scary situation,” said Jym Ocbina ’03, HIV test counselor for the Gannett Clinical Volunteer Program (GCVP). “Some people who have come in [to Gannett] may have waited for as long as six months before mustering up the courage to get tested just because they’re anxious about their situation,” he said.

Because the thought of needles and blood may add to an individual’s uneasiness about HIV testing, “Orasure is a good choice for students who don’t like needles or don’t like getting their blood drawn,” according to Ocbina.

Gannett was the first health clinic in Tompkins County to offer oral testing specific to HIV and has provided Orasure as option for HIV testing since Oct. 2001.

According to Barbara Jastran, clinical counselor, oral testing involves placing a swab on the tissues inside the mouth for about three minutes. From the tissues inside the oral cavity, Orasure collects the oral mucosal transudate, a substance full of antibodies. The sample is then sent to the laboratory and tested by the same methods used in blood testing. Orasure results are comparable to blood test results, with blood testing at 99.99 percent accuracy and Orasure at 99.96 percent.

Three options are available for HIV antibody testing at Gannett. Blood testing through the New York State Department of Health is free of charge, but the results may take up to three weeks to process. Orasure costs $44 with test results available within a week. Lastly, blood tests through LabCorp, a private medical laboratory, cost $101 with results available within three days. According to Jastran, about nine percent of individuals getting tested choose the oral testing option.

HIV testing at Gannett is a three-step process beginning with a confidential pre-test session conducted by peer educators from the GCVP.

During this session, a peer educator or clinician works with an individual to choose an appropriate testing method and to assess his or her risk of infection before a blood or oral sample is taken. At this time, the peer educator discusses with the patient ways to minimize risky behavior with regards to safer sex and sexually transmitted infections.

If the patient chooses the Orasure option, the oral sample is taken at the time of the pre-test and no separate appointment is necessary. If the patient chooses to take a blood test, the sample is drawn at a separate appointment.

Finally, patients are required to schedule a confidential follow-up session during which a peer educator or clinician discusses the test results with the patients.

What begins as a simple HIV test can become an educational opportunity for students to think about a variety of other health issues, according to Jennifer Austin, communications specialist for Gannett.

“It’s a reflective time for the patient to talk about their relationships and think more broadly about the risks that may be involved,” she said.

Liz Blidner ’04, HIV test counselor for the GCVP, noted the diversity of individuals who get tested for a variety of reasons.

“Men and women of different sexual orientations, ethnicities, races and ages come in for any number of reasons, whether they need forms to travel abroad or are concerned about a specific encounter, a new relationship, or a needle from a piercing or tattoo,” she said.

Sarah Chiang ’03, peer educator for the GCVP, pointed out the importance of understanding the “individual and societal implications of human sexuality that is crucial to the quality of life.”

“Most of my clients, both male and female, have forgotten much of what they learned in health and sex education classes in elementary and high schools,” Chiang said. “Many of them are not aware of the variety of sexual health products and services readily available and affordable in the Ithaca area.”

In addition to Gannett, Planned Parenthood in downtown Ithaca also provides sexual health care and HIV testing and counseling.

“Anyone thinking about whether they should get tested or not should know that they have nothing to lose,” Blidner said. “The peace of mind from getting tested and even getting a partner tested is worth the hour or so that the testing involves.”

Archived article by Janet Liao