PEI

Health PEI offers first blood spot testing clinic for HIV and hepatitis C

Health PEI is exploring a new, more accessible way to test for infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.

New test takes a few minutes and just five drops of blood

Dried blood spot testing requires a finger prick and five drops of blood that are placed on a specialized card. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Health PEI is exploring a new, more accessible way to test for infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. 

The new technique is called dried blood spot testing, which requires a finger prick and only five drops of blood that are placed on a specialized card and can be used to do multiple blood tests.

The tests were used for the first time on P.E.I. at the PEERS Alliance Linking Together event Saturday. Dr. Greg German, a medical microbiologist consulting in infectious diseases with the province, believed it was the first time the testing method had been used in Atlantic Canada.

Dr. Greg German, a medical microbiologist for the province, says each blood spot test takes about five minutes and is more reliable than current point-of-care testing. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He said dried blood spot testing is simple and non-invasive, which makes testing more accessible.

"It allows [one] to do it without going into the hospital to have someone take a major amount of blood, and people are pretty shy about that, and we'll be able to give great results," German said. 

German said Health PEI has partnered with PEERS Alliance to offer pop-up hepatitis C clinics in the past, but this new method allows physicians to test for a number of other diseases at one time.

Dried blood spot testing allows for tests 'without going into the hospital to have someone take a major amount of blood,' says German. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"Now we're offering, I think, an excellent service where we're going an extra step. We're providing HIV testing as well as hepatitis C as well as syphilis testing," he said.

Half the cost, more reliable

German said 20 people were tested at the Linking Together event, each test taking about five minutes. He said results will take two to three weeks to come back and will be provided through the Infectious Disease Clinic or over the phone, depending on the nature of the results and wishes of the individual.

Cybelle Rieber, executive director of PEERS Alliance, says the organization hopes to partner with Health PEI to offer more dried blood spot clinics in the future. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The test is about half the cost of traditional testing methods and more reliable, German said.

"If there is a situation where one of the tests is what we call a screen positive, there's actually enough blood on these spots to do a confirmatory test, so we're going to have more reassuring results of whatever the situation is," he said.

He also said training to collect the blood is easy and doesn't have to be done by a medical professional, though it is done under the supervision of a health-care worker.

Reduces stigma 

Cybelle Rieber, executive director of PEERS Alliance, said she's thrilled to be able to offer this new method of testing.

She said the test is as simple as testing blood sugar levels and can help reduce stigma surrounding diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, encouraging more people to get tested.

"It helps to normalize STI testing," she said. "Really it should be part of our ... regular health care, and having technologies that are available that are fast, simple and easy I think is just really important."

Rieber said PEERS Alliance hopes to partner with Health PEI to offer more dried blood spot clinics in the future.

German said Health PEI will take a closer look at testing strategies, including dried blood spot testing, to determine whether it will make it more widely available in the future.

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