A rapid home test for HIV, similar to early pregnancy tests, will be considered by a federal advisory committee on Tuesday, a move that many public health experts believe could eventually help calm Americans' fears of HIV, leading them to view it as just another serious chronic illness.

An over-the-counter test offers new hope against an epidemic whose numbers in the United States have hardly budged in more than 15 years. An estimated 50 percent to 70 percent of the more than 50,000 new HIV cases annually are transmitted by people who were unaware that they were infected.

The screening test, made by OraSure Technologies Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., relies on a simple swab of the gums. You insert the pad in a vial of fluid and wait 20 minutes. The appearance of two lines on the device indicates HIV, a preliminary result that must be confirmed by a laboratory blood test.

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