SF developing new weapon in fight against HIV 

HIV-positive people who have been slipping through the cracks undetected will soon be better identified by San Francisco health officials.

With a new $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Public Health will begin a new antigen testing for high-risk populations, including gay men and transgender residents.

The typical HIV test detects antibodies, which do not surface until several weeks after a person is infected. That means people who have a negative test result can still have HIV and not know it, health officials said.

But the new test — which was recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration — allows public health officials to shorten the detection window by as much as a week, identifying HIV-positive people earlier, when they are most likely to transmit the disease.

“We will be able to find people who are acutely infected that after being tested would have left the site thinking they are negative when they are not,” said Terri Dowling, director of HIV testing for the HIV prevention section for the Department of Public Health.

The Health Department plans to spend the money at the four busiest testing sites that target the highest risk populations; those locations include Tenderloin Health, the San Francisco Aids Foundation Magnet, Aids Health Project and City Clinic. They hope to test 22,000 people at these clinics, Dowling said.

The grant, which is one of three awarded in the nation, was announced a few weeks before President Barack Obama unveiled his own national strategy to drastically cut HIV infection rates by as much as 25 percent — especially among the black and gay communities, where the disease is most prevalent.

San Francisco has as many as 1,000 new infections every year, with 87 percent of those being gay men, according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, a local policy and prevention group. The neighborhoods most affected by HIV are the Castro, Mission and Tenderloin.

San Francisco public health officials have set a more ambitious goal to reduce HIV infections by 50 percent in the next five years.

To do this, there must be a greater focus on HIV testing, which continues to be a challenge in San Francisco, said Barbara Kimport, interim CEO for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

An estimated one out of every five people infected with HIV do not know it, she said.

“It’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of new infections are caused by people who are not aware of their status,” Kimport said. “So it’s critical that everyone know their HIV status.”

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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