An AIDS virus test that uses fluid from the mouth instead of blood has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA said Friday the test will be available only from physicians and will be administered only by people trained in its use.Dr. Jeff Lawrence, a consultant to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said the test using oral fluid could encourage people who would avoid blood tests to be tested for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"As long as a positive test is followed up with a blood test and as long as there is appropriate counseling available, it is a reasonable thing to do," said Lawrence.

The new test measures the presence in the saliva of the antibodies to the HIV virus. The virus itself has not been found in saliva.

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The FDA approval actually involves two systems: a way to collect and preserve the oral fluid and a way to test the specimen in a laboratory for the HIV virus.

To collect fluid for a test, a specially treated cotton pad on a stick is placed between the lower gum and the cheek and allowed to absorb fluid.

At a laboratory, the specimen undergoes an "enzyme-linked im-muno-sorbent assay," or ELISA, test that is able to detect antibodies to HIV.

Positive tests are confirmed with a blood test called the Western Blot, which is more sensitive than the ELISA.

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