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September 23, 2011

New test at UVA speeds diagnosis of HIV

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An HIV blood test now available at the University of Virginia Health System’s Ryan White HIV Clinic provides a faster diagnosis of the disease, which is vital to beginning treatment promptly and limiting the spread of HIV.

A quick diagnosis is important, says infectious disease specialist Greg Townsend, MD, because patients are at highest risk for spreading HIV immediately after contracting the disease when “they have the highest amount of virus in their blood but no symptoms. If patients are diagnosed sooner, they can begin treatment sooner and begin taking precautions.”

Standard HIV tests look for antibodies produced to combat the disease, says pathologist David E. Bruns, MD. However, it can take four to six weeks for a patient to begin producing those antibodies after contracting HIV, says pathologist Kevin C. Hazen, PhD. UVA Health System is the first hospital in Central Virginia to begin using a test that looks for antibodies as well as a protein unique to HIV that appears sooner than the antibodies. The protein unique to HIV can be detected seven to 14 days sooner than the antibodies, Hazen says.

The test can be performed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and test results are generally available within 30 minutes, Hazen says. Positive test results are confirmed through a second test using a different testing technique. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV annually.

Along with enabling patients who have HIV to begin treatment sooner, Townsend says, the test also provides faster peace of mind for patients who don’t have the virus. “With the new test, they can feel a lot more confident that it’s negative,” he says.

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