A few weeks ago, a rape victim showed up at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, desperate to find out if she had been exposed to HIV and might end up with full-blown AIDS.
Before November, the woman would have had to wait as long as six months to determine if she carried HIV antibodies, which the body creates in response to exposure to HIV. Depending upon the strength of the immune system, antibodies may show up in is as little as two weeks, but it often takes months.
Instead, the distraught woman was told of a new test, just now being offered, that could determine the presence of HIV antigens, which are part of the virus and appear within 17 days of exposure.
She still had to wait 10 more days to take the test, but once that was accomplished and she found out she did not have exposure to the disease, she could begin the healing process from the trauma of the rape, according to Kim de St. Paer, who counsels HIV/AIDS patients at the clinic.
The young woman was one of two who came to the clinic in recent weeks for HIV testing after having been given a "date rape" drug, de St. Paer said.
"The new test is an exciting development in the detection and early treatment of HIV/AIDS," de St. Paer said. "It's been the same basic test for 20 years. Now people have a choice."
Since offering the test in late November for $40, about 20 have been done, she said.
The test requires a blood sample, which is sent to UC Irvine's laboratory for the testing procedure.
The new test also determines if antibodies exist, so it provides an extra level of assurance in the results.
"The test was approved by the FDA in June, and we began offering it two weeks after the Mayo Clinic," de St. Paer said. "It's the most innovative of the new generation of HIV tests."
The test is offered anonymously on a walk-in basis at the clinic, and people who are concerned about the prospect of AIDS don't have to wait for a doctor's referral.
Dr. Tom Bent, the clinic's medical director, authorizes the testing on the spot. If the test is positive, and the person needs treatment, then his or her name is used.
Other people who have found the test beneficial are those in a new relationship, where one partner could have been exposed to the virus and is concerned about spreading it.
The old six-month waiting period virtually guaranteed that the testing would not happen before some sexual contact occurred between the partners; with the new test and its 17-day waiting period, there is more likelihood the partners will hold off having unprotected sex until both are certified as "clean," de St. Paer said.
If the test results are positive and the person does show the HIV antigen, then treatment can begin months earlier than under the old testing regimen.
Laguna Beach still has the highest per capita incidence of AIDS/HIV in Orange County, de St. Paer said.
"That's why it's so important for us to have the earliest possible testing and early treatment," she said.
Patients who test positive are enrolled in the clinic's AIDS treatment program run by AIDS specialists Dr. Korey Jorgensen and Dr. Chau Ngo.
De St. Paer provides counseling services.
The clinic is located at 362 Third St. in downtown Laguna Beach. For more information, call (949) 494-0761 or visit http://www.lbclinic.org.