|HIV Testing Question?
Jul 3, 2006
I have read in various questions that you state that after getting tested 3 months after a possible HIV exposure, the results are to be viewed as conclusive/definitive .
However, in some other questions , it seems the 6 month timeframe is stated as the definitive timeline for certainty of the results?
What is the reason for the difference?
Pls advise. Thank you.
| Response from Dr. Frascino
Another QTND (Question That Never Dies). At least this one is reasonable, and reasonably confusing not to mention controversial. Therefore, I certainly don't mind reiterating information that is already in the archives. However because my fingers are getting tired of typing and that there is no new information to report, I'm just going to reprint one of my posts from the archives that addresses this topic. If you want more information there are other posts in the archives for you to peruse at your leisure, if you so desire. Hope this helps, however I'm sure this topic (like all QTND) will continue to resurface frequently.
Robert James, this is your Mother talking
Jul 26, 2004
okay so I am not your mother, but I do need some advice. You have said over and over if you think you were exposed test at 3 months, but you also say if you know you were exposed test to 6 months??? What gives? Don't quote the CDC. I want you to be straight with me, (there is a joke in there) Why are you not consistent? 3 months if I think and 6 months if I know! What is your opinion? I have had the works when it comes to symptoms and was diagnosed for 1 STD, all are gone except for the PN. This after a 1 time insertive exposure with a female who I fear has HIV. I had a neg elisa at 5 months. Do I need another test or not? And why the 3 or 6 months answers? P.S. and don't be straight the world loves you the way you are!
Response from Dr. Frascino
Hello Not My Mother,
I do realize this issue is more than a bit confusing, so let me try once again to explain the rationale behind our advice. The question seems simple enough: three months or six months for a definitive result. The answer, however, is far from "straight" forward. The confusion results from variability in the immune response (time to produce anti-HIV antibodies) which is different from person to person, limitations in the test's sensitivity and specificity (ability of the test to pick up all true positives or eliminate all true negatives), and clinical judgment. In addition, there are special circumstances where our general recommendations for testing might not be applicable. For instance, when folks are simultaneous exposed to hepatitis C and HIV or when folks have previously received experimental HIV vaccines, consultation with an HIV specialist is often required to provide guidance on when to test and how to interpret the test results. Added to his are many very anxious folks who are absolutely certain they have contracted HIV, but in reality, have no identifiable risk. You know the type: "Grandma farted while trying to get out of her Barco-lounger chair. It smelled worse than usual. Now I'm convinced I've got AIDS." Of course, these folks require basic HIV prevention counseling and education, not HIV testing. But that doesn't stop them from getting tested "just to be sure," etc. So what would the answer be to these folks' "three months versus six months" question? In reality, neither, since they didn't need testing in the first place. And what about folks with some degree of potential ongoing exposure? How do we monitor their HIV status? So you can see this is not as straight forward as you might originally think.
OK, back to your questions. The best I can do is take all the information provided to me from an individual questioner, apply the information concerning the limitations of HIV testing, the results of large-scale epidemiological studies, and the scientific facts pertaining to how HIV is transmitted, and then give the questioner my expert opinion and advice. Whether that person chooses to accept my advice or follow my recommendations is, of course, totally up to him or her. The reason I quote the CDC's published guidelines is that they are perhaps the most conservative set of published and well-referenced recommendations I have seen.
So what can I, in good conscience and backed by science, advise? I can say that following a single possible or known exposure, the vast majority of infected persons will develop detectable HIV antibodies within three months of exposure. If the initial negative HIV test was performed within the first three months after exposure, repeat testing should be done at three or more months to rule out the possibility of a false-negative result within the window period. If the ELISA test is negative at three months or more after an exposure, the individual is extremely likely to be HIV negative. This is all based on statistical risk analysis and large-scale epidemiological studies. Now comes the confusing part. If a person was significantly exposed to a known HIV-infected person, the estimated statistical risks change and a second repeat test "might" be considered at six months or more from the exposure depending on the circumstances. And yes, there are very rare reports of seroconversion 6-12 months after a known exposure. The exact details of these very rare historical cases are a bit sketchy, but the reports do indeed exist in the medical literature. Today, however, extended follow-up testing beyond six months after exposure to rule out the extremely rare possibility of delayed seroconversion is not recommended, except under exceedingly rare circumstances that should be based on the clinical judgment of an HIV specialist.
I realize some folks may find this response unsatisfying and perhaps unsettling. However, I'm here to provide you with the best confirmed scientific knowledge that we have, and that's the extent of our knowledge at this time.
I'm also here to provide you with an expert opinion about that science. So let's proceed "straight ahead" (or should that be "gaily forward?") to your question. I would consider a negative ELISA test at five months following a "1 time insertive exposure with a female" of unknown HIV status to be definitive. I would not recommend additional testing. However, as always, the choice to follow my advice or not is totally up to you, whether you are my mother or not.
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