Few Use Tests That Find HIV Early
BY HIV Plus Editors
August 01 2009 12:00 AM ET
Although an HIV blood test that looks for viral RNA can determine if one is infected with HIV days or even weeks before HIV antibody tests can, few health care providers are offering the tests and few test seekers are asking for them, according to a report in The New York Times.
AIDS experts say RNA tests are used sparingly not only because they cost significantly more than HIV antibody tests but also because they require a blood sample and lab analysis and they do not produce immediate results. Rapid-results antibody tests use an oral swab and produce on-site results in just 20 minutes.
But the RNA tests could be particularly useful in fighting the spread of HIV because they detect infections as early as one week to 10 days after exposure to the virus, a period called acute infection -- when HIV levels are very high in the body and the chance of infecting others is significantly elevated. In fact, studies have shown that up to half of all HIV infections may be caused by transmissions from those in the earliest stages of infection.
'People with acute infection have more virus in the blood, and if they're unaware they're more likely to engage in risky behavior, Kenneth Mayer of Brown University said of the importance of diagnosing HIV as soon after infection as possible.