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Using PCR test to determine your status

Jul 3, 2003

Can you take a PCR test to determine your HIV status? If so, how soon can you take the test if you think you might have been exposed to the virus? Finally, how reliable is the test?

Thank you

Response from Dr. Horwath

The standard ELISA, with a confirmatory Western blot, is a highly sensitive and specific test. As you may be aware, following an exposure, the development of antibodies to HIV may take some time. The ELISA will turn positive as early as 3 weeks post-exposure, and by 3 months in most cases. Following occupational exposure, follow-up tests are recommended at 4, 12, and 26 weeks. Other tests, such as quantitative HIV RNA PCR and qualitative plasma DNA PCR will turn positive earlier than the ELISA, but are not used as screening or diagnostic tests because they are associated with a higher false-positive rate.

In short, the PCR tests are generally not recommended for use as screening or diagnostic tests.

Enough testing?
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