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How long can antibodies be detected?
Nov 29, 2008

Dear Dr. McGowan,

Would a person's HIV antibody level still be high enough to detect on a standard screening ELISA if the infection started 10-12 years ago? My exposures were high risk, unprotected, with someone who I just recently found out was HIV+ during the years we were a couple.

I've had a lot of repeat skin and ear/lung infections the last couple of yearsand my doctor even asked if I've had an HIV test...which started me wondering.

Thank you for any advice you can give.

Response from Dr. McGowan

Dear wondering:

Antibodies to HIV can and usually will persist for life after infection. The immune system maintains antibody levels to protect itself after exposure to an infection. Chronic infections such as HIV are most likely to maintain detectable antibody levels because the immune system is constantly stimulated by the infection. So, if you were exposed and infected 10 years ago, the test should still be positive. The average time from infection to development of symptomatic disease from HIV is around 9 to 10 years. An HIV test now should confirm or rule out HIV as a cause of your symptoms.

Good luck, Joe


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