It is the first widespread testing of a saliva-based procedure to detect the presence of antibodies to the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. AIDS tests now detect HIV antibodies in blood serum, exposing health care workers to potential HIV infection.
Testing of about 4,000 people began immediately at five U.S. medical centers. If successful, the test will be used in hospitals and clinics. Eventually the potential exists for an in-home AIDS test, much like the pregnancy tests now sold over the counter in U.S. drugstores.
The device consists of a cotton-like pad impregnated with a preservative that "absorbs antibodies." The pad, which projects from a handle that is shaped much like a bent toothbrush, is held in the mouth between the gums and cheek for about two minutes. The pad then is sealed in a tube and sent to a laboratory.