HIV RNA Testing vs HIV Antibody Testing
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is the body’s natural defense. Without a strong immune system, the body has trouble fighting off disease. HIV invades and destroys certain types of white blood cells. If too many of these white blood cells are destroyed, the body can no longer defend itself against infection. If you think you have been exposed to HIV your next course of action would be to get tested. This means picking out what test is right for you. This article discusses two types of testing: The HIV antibody test and the HIV RNA early detection test.
The two main types of HIV testing most commonly used are the HIV Antibody Test and the HIV RNA early detection test. You may be asking yourself what is the difference between the two tests and which one is right for you. To put it simply, one of the tests’ results can be obtained more quickly than the other and might be a lot more expensive. Let’s begin by talking about the HIV antibody test which is the most common.
The HIV antibody test is the most appropriate test for routine diagnosis of HIV among adults. Antibody tests are relatively inexpensive and very accurate. This test works by spotting a special protein that is produced when a person becomes infected with HIV, called an antibody. The antibody HIV test looks for these antibodies in blood, saliva, or urine. If the HIV antibody is detected it probably means that the person with the positive test has been infected with HIV. There are however exceptions to this rule. First, babies that are born to HIV infected mothers retain their mother’s antibodies for up to 18 months. This could lead to a false positive. The baby does have the HIV antibodies but it does not necessarily mean that the baby has HIV. The second exception is that some people who have taken part in HIV vaccine trials could also have HIV antibodies even if they are not infected with the virus.
Another question that could be asked when talking about the HIV antibody test would be: how long is the period of time between an HIV infection and the body’s production of HIV antibodies. The answer to this question is three months are recommended after a potential HIV exposure. During this three month latency, a HIV antibody test could give a false negative. If after the three month period a person has received a false test it is almost certain that the person is HIV negative. If at the six month mark a person is still negative, and not had another possible exposure to HIV, this means the person is not infected with HIV.
HIV antibody tests are extremely accurate when it comes to detecting the presence of the HIV antibody. Also the enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent(ELISA) HIV antibody test is very sensitive and will detect very small amounts of the HIV antibody. This high level of sensitivity can have a negative effect, meaning that their ability to distinguish between the HIV antibody and the from other antibodies is slightly lowered. Therefore, there is a very small chance that a result could come back as a false positive.
What if the normal three month period is just too long for you to mull over the fact that you might have HIV? The HIV RNA early detection test might be what you are looking for. An HIV RNA early detection test, also known as a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, can detect the genetic material of HIV rather than the antibodies of the virus. Babies born to mothers with HIV are often given a PCR test because, as explained above, they often retain their mother’s antibodies for up to 18 months, making an antibody test inaccurate. PCR testing is not used as often as the antibody test because it is very expensive and more complicated to be given and to interpret.
This type of testing uses a series of repeated reactions to make huge amounts of copies of the genetic material that will be used in the test. This procedure amplifies the signal of the nucleic acids in the test sample so that they will be easier to identify. After the PCR process is complete a more common test is used to detect the HIV virus. PCR testing is very useful for doctors because it allows them to detect the virus when very little is present.
A PCR test can detect the genetic material of HIV from three days to four weeks after exposure to the infection. After an infection takes place the “viral load” is usually very high within the first four weeks. In adults PCR tests are most commonly used when there is a recent high risk exposure. For example, having a condom break with a known HIV positive partner who is not on treatment would be a good reason to have a PCR test done. Also, if a person is experiencing symptoms of the HIV infection, like fever, extremely drowsy, and flu like symptoms. On average a PCR RNA test detects infection about twelve days before an HIV antibody test.
So, which test is right for you? The more expensive test that allows you to get test results sooner rather than later with a possible false negative. Or is the less expensive test that takes six month for a definite answer. Only you know the answer and can make the decision.