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The drugstores are expected to keep the test confidential. Pharmacy workers are to refer customers with positive tests to counseling and other services.
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.
The program carries both promise and potential pitfalls, said Julie Davids, a longtime advocate who now works for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
More testing is a plus, she said. And even if they don't get a free test, signs in the drugstores may prompt people to get tested at a doctor's office or clinic where they feel more comfortable, said Davids.
But Davids said pharmacies more used to handling cholesterol screenings might have difficulty responding to patients who learn in a drugstore they're HIV-positive.
"A person may freeze up and fall apart later," or get emotional on the spot and even talk about suicide, she said.
In addition to Freedman's store, a second Walgreens in Washington is offering the test, as well as branches in Chicago and Lithonia, Ga. The other sites are East Pines Pharmacy in Riverdale, Md., Mike's Pharmacy in Oakland, Calif. and a federal Indian Health Service location in Billings, Mont.
Each location will get enough tests to check 200 to 300 people. Made by OraSure Technologies Inc., the $17.50 test is the only government-approved rapid HIV test that uses saliva. Other rapid tests on the market analyze a finger-prick blood sample. The tests are used routinely in doctor's offices, hospitals and clinics.
The OraSure swab test's stick-like testing device is used to wipe the inside of the mouth, then it is put in a solution, said company spokesman Ron Ticho. If two lines appear, that indicates a positive test.
The company is seeking government approval to sell it over-the-counter for home testing. A decision is expected later this year.
The test is sold in about 40 countries, including Mexico, Italy, South Korea and South Africa. Ticho said he is not aware of another country where pharmacies routinely offer the testing.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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