N.C. Researchers Find Cost-Effective Way of Conducting HIV Test That Detects Virus Earlier, Could Reduce Spread of Disease
May 6, 2005
Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in collaboration with the North Carolina Division of Public Health on Wednesday announced they have found a cost-effective way to use an improved but expensive HIV test that can detect the virus weeks earlier than standard screening, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. The study -- which was funded by NIH and used donated lab supplies -- was published in the May 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Christopher Pilcher, an associate professor of medicine at UNC-CH, and colleagues tested 109,250 patients between November 2002 and October 2003 at state-funded testing sites. The researchers found 583 HIV-positive people using standard HIV antibody testing but identified an additional 23 cases when they used the "more sophisticated" nucleic acid amplification to test the negative samples, according to the News & Observer (Avery, Raleigh News & Observer, 5/5). Nucleic acid testing, which was developed in 1999, is used to screen about 14 million units of donated blood each year. NAT can detect minute amounts of viral genetic material in pooled plasma samples by amplifying gene fragments of the virus. If a pool tests positive for HIV, the individual sample can be detected and removed for further processing, and the donor can be deferred and notified (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/19/04). Because NAT looks for the virus and not antibodies, health professionals are able to identify HIV-positive patients in the days immediately following infection -- when they are most contagious -- which could help slow the spread of virus. Following interviews with the 23 patients who were newly infected, researchers and public health workers identified 18 more HIV-positive people who were sex partners of the people identified through the study (Raleigh News & Observer, 5/5). Testing with the more sophisticated method produced two false positive results, according to the study.
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