A federal advisory committee on Tuesday unanimously approved over-the-counter sale of a rapid HIV test, acknowledging public health workers' pleas for a new tool against an epidemic that is driven largely by people who don't know their status and infect others.

If the Food and Drug Administation agrees with its advisers, the oral swab screening test made by OraSure Technologies Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., would become the first infectious disease test approved for home use.

The panel overcame considerable unknowns and concerns that the test cannot pick up newly-acquired infections to focus on a bigger picture.

"I still can't get past the quarter-million people who don't get tested," member Steven W. Pipe, a pediatrics and communicable diseases specialist at the University of Michigan, said before casting his positive vote.