Recently, the US government has approved the first oral HIV test that can give results in 20 minutes. Before this, HIV testing required a person''s blood to be directly tested.

In this new test from OraSure Technologies Inc., an individual''s mouth is wiped with a treated cotton swab, collecting cells from inside the mouth.

After the sample is collected, the sample is placed in a small testing chamber. If an infection is present, a reddish-purple line appears in a window. This test is 99% accurate.

About one-fourth of the 850,000 to 950,000 Americans living with HIV do not know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is hoped that a test such as this will give confidence to those at risk to come forward and be tested. Those that fear needles and blood tests for initial testing should be encouraged with the ease of testing now available. If the test is indeed positive, confirmatory testing with blood samples still is required.

Before this, blood testing for HIV infection took up to 2 weeks to get results. The problem with this method is that up to 8000 individuals per year that tested positive never returned for follow-up advice and treatment.

About 40,000 Americans a year are felt to become infected with HIV, a rate that has held constant for years. Worse, there are disturbing signs that efforts to fight the epidemic are waning, such as recent increases in new HIV cases among gay men.