Company Defends Tests by Mail for AIDS Antibodies

Times Staff Writer

A spokesman for a 2-month-old company that offers AIDS anti-body tests through the mail defended its operation Wednesday, saying the criticism that the procedure offers inadequate counseling to persons who test positive for the AIDS virus can be overcome by "pre-counseling literature" included in the $59 test kit.

Still, county health officials and AIDS education organizations said they remained skeptical of the Corona-based firm, National AIDS Prevention Corp., because of the lack of face-to-face counseling and because the same type of test is performed free at government-sponsored clinics.

"We've taken extra steps to prepare what we think is very adequate literature. It pre-counsels the individual even before the test is done," spokesman Ken Becker said during a press conference at the Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach.

The test kit includes a booklet containing general information on AIDS, the meaning of a positive HIV-III virus test result, a toll-free number to call if an individual wants personal counseling, a vial the testee takes to a hospital or physician for a blood sample (drawing the blood usually costs an additional $10) and an instruction sheet.

Results Sent by Mail

An overnight courier picks up the blood sample from the hospital or physician and delivers it to the company's contracted medical lab in Corona for processing. The results are sent by certified mail to the testee within 11 days, Becker said.

Though private doctors charge $40 to $100 to test for the AIDS antibody, county testing clinics do the test free of charge, according to Jeanette Shelly, an AIDS investigator for the Orange County Health Care Agency's epidemiology division in Santa Ana.

Shelly said a person may also ask his or her private physician to contract the county clinic to perform the test at a cost of $23.

Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president of the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for AIDS Research, said he would "absolutely not" recommend the company's product to persons seeking an AIDS anti-body test.

"Counseling by definition is not a one-way street," Silverman said. "A piece of paper cannot talk back to you."

Becker, who refused to divulge how much money the company makes from each test, said the firm has performed 200 tests since its operation began two months ago.

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