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Antibody test
Feb 20, 1997

I recently had emergency surgery and when I received the hospital bill, it stated I had had an "antibody screening". Does that mean I was tested for HIV antibodies as well as all other dangerous antibodies? My doctor never told me anything was wrong. I also received a blood transfusion while I was in the hospital and wanted to know what my risks were of contracting any kind of disease from a blood transfusion.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

Only being told that you had an "antibody test" can mean almost anything. You need to find out from the hospital (or your doctor), which antibody test was done. This could have been an HIV test, or many other types of antibody tests as well.

Because I live in the United States, I can only tell you how the American Blood Supply is tested and screened to avoid infection with bloodborne diseases. I cannot tell you if these screening procedures are done in all countries.

It can take an HIV antibody test up to 6 months to show positive on these tests. This is why the American blood system goes beyond HIV antibody tests to screen the blood supply. The American blood supply is tested for both HIV-1 and HIV-2. It is also tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HTLV-I and II, and syphilis. If a person tests positive on any of these tests, the blood is destroyed, and the donor is notified that they tested positive, and they cannot donate blood in the future.

If a person has been infected with HIV for less than 6 months, there is a possibility that a person can be infected, and it not be found by antibody tests. Therefore, in addition to antibody tests, the following procedures are done in the American blood supply to make the blood supply even safer against bloodborne diseases.

1) When testing for HIV, in addition to antibody tests, the American blood supply is tested with the p-24 antigen test. This test will usually show positive an average of 6 days before the antibody test will. Using this test (in addition to the antibody tests) will therefore shorten the window period by about a week. Once the antibody tests turn positive, the antigen test will once again revert back to negative. The p-24 antigen test cannot be used by itself to diagnose HIV infection. Other tests should be used in addition to p-24 antigen tests in the diagnosis of HIV infection. It is expected that by using the p-24 antigen test (in addition to antibody tests), that there will be approximately 10 fewer HIV infections in the American blood supply per year.

2) In addition to p-24 testing and antibody testing, before a person can donate blood in the USA, they must first be interviewed regarding their risks for HIV and other bloodborne diseases. They are asked questions about where in the world they have traveled, their drug use history, their sexual behaviors, and other risk factors that could put them at risk for HIV and other bloodborne diseases. If they are found to be at risk for HIV and other bloodborne diseases, they will not be permitted to donate blood.

We already know that manditory tests have significantly reduced the risks of HIV and other bloodborne diseases through receiving a blood transfusion. However, since antibody tests do not immediately show positive, other screening procedures (discussed above) have been added to antibody testing. This has reduced the chance of transmission in the blood supply from infected persons who have not yet produced antibodies against HIV and other bloodborne diseases.

The above information applies strictly to the American blood supply. I do not know if other countries follow the same protocol. If you live outside the USA, you would have to ask your local blood bank if they do antibody testing for both HIV-1 and HIV-2, and if they do pre-donation interviews and p-24 testing. You would also have to ask what other diseases (besides HIV) they test for. We do know however that since these screening procedures have been put into place, the chances of infection with HIV and other bloodborne diseases in the American blood supply have been significantly reduced, and the chance of infection with these diseases through a blood transfusion in the USA is very small.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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