Facility Halts Use of Oral HIV Test

Times Staff Writer

The L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center said Thursday that it has abandoned the use of a rapid oral HIV test introduced last year, saying that it produces too many false positive results.

The announcement came a month after a major testing center in San Francisco, the UCSF AIDS Health Project, made the same decision.

The Los Angeles center found 13 people in November who tested positive for HIV from the oral swab test, but follow-up tests showed that they were not infected. On average, 600 people a month receive the oral test at the center and 20 results are positive. Before November, false positives were rare, according to the center.


The center will use another technique to rapidly test for the virus, which requires a small blood sample. That method has not been cited as a problem.

“One of our biggest concerns is the public is going to lose confidence in HIV testing. We can’t afford for that to happen,” said Jim Key, a spokesman for the L.A. center. “We’re trying to make the public aware that there are very reliable tests to know their HIV status.”

Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of Los Angeles County’s sexually transmitted disease program, said the county has not detected abnormally high rates of inaccurate test results, and questioned the gay and lesbian center’s figures.

I think the wrong thing to do here is to stop using the test,” he said.

The test, called OraQuick Advance, is produced by Bethlehem, Pa.-based OraSure Technologies Inc. and allows people using a saliva or blood sample to get their HIV results in 20 minutes. Only the saliva test is suspected of having excessive false positives.

Some testing sites in New York City also have reported higher than expected error rates with OraQuick but have not stopped using the oral test, OraSure President Doug Michels said Thursday.

A major HIV testing center in New York, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, will follow up positive oral tests with the rapid blood test, said Drew De Los Reyes, an assistant director of the center. But the center has not detected any problems with the test, he said.

Michels said the company has “extreme confidence in the reliability of the test” and is studying the complaints.

“Any time that customers call us and tell us that the device is not generating the type of results they are accustomed to, we take that very seriously,” Michels said.