ACT News

Most are happy to get tested for HIV at the dentist

Thinking outside the box: Promoting routine access to rapid HIV testing could help increase early diagnosis of the virus.
Thinking outside the box: Promoting routine access to rapid HIV testing could help increase early diagnosis of the virus.  

Eight out of 10 patients would be willing to get a rapid HIV test during a visit to their dentist. 

A study to be released at the Sydney University HIV Testing Symposium on Wednesday reveals widespread support for dentists being able to offer HIV testing to patients. 

Of the 82 per cent of patients who said they would be prepared to be HIV tested at a dentist's office, almost three-quarters would opt for a saliva swab, 15 per cent preferred a pinprick test and 8 per cent preferred a traditional blood test, according to the study of more than 500 dental patients in Sydney. 

But less than half of dentists would be prepared and willing to offer rapid HIV testing, the researchers said. 

The study's lead author, Anthony Santella from the University of Sydney, said it was important for policymakers and other stakeholders to consider expanding rapid HIV testing beyond medical and sexual health clinics. 

He believes promoting routine access to rapid HIV testing would help increase early diagnosis of the virus. 

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"Ten to 20 per cent of people living with HIV don't know their positive status," Dr Santella said. "For the average person with HIV in Australia, from the time of initial infection to diagnosis is about 3½ years, so that's 3½ years that they have this serious virus and are not on medicine and potentially spreading the virus." 

About 60 per cent of Australians see a dentist once a year. 

HIV testing is not currently available in a dental setting anywhere in the world. 

Rapid HIV testing can be done through a finger prick or saliva swab and patients can receive their results in as quickly as 20 minutes. 

"We need to think outside the box with creative preventive strategies and being able to offer rapid HIV testing possibly in a dental setting or possibly a community pharmacy setting," Dr Santella said. "This is another tool for the toolbox. 

"We're not suggesting every dentist start offering this but we're suggesting it could provide an alternative venue to GPs and sexual health clinics."

He said rapid HIV testing using oral swabs would be an effective way to screen for the virus and he stressed that dentists would not be diagnosing a person's HIV status. 

"They would be telling someone that their screening test came back positive and they have to go to a GP to get blood test done," he said. 

Recent data from ACT Health reveals new diagnoses of HIV in the territory have more than doubled in the past five years. Figures show there were 11 new diagnoses in 2009-10, 10 in 2010-11, 15 in 2011-12, 21 in 2012-13 and 26 this financial year. 

The research comes after the federal government last week lifted restrictions on the sale of home-testing kits for HIV in an attempt to increase early diagnosis of the virus.

Tests meeting Australian standards could be sold directly to consumers, including through pharmacies, allowing people to get treatment sooner and stop the virus spreading.

Dr Santella believes there should be a trial of rapid HIV testing in some dental surgeries.