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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Better HIV Testing

Community-based HIV testing programs generally use only HIV antibody testing, but nucleic acid testing (NAT) can detect the presence of HIV earlier. NAT is a fairly recent technology that allows very small amounts of genetic material, such as DNA and RNA, to be detected. UC San Diego has been offering the NAT test free through its own hospitals and its San Diego County partners, and researchers at UCSD’s Antiviral Research Center looked at more than 3,000 patients who were tested. Their study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that NAT testing increased the HIV detection yield by 23 percent, and that a large majority of study participants received their negative test results by automated phone or internet systems.

Despite decades of prevention efforts in the U.S., the incidence rate of HIV has remained stable. Because the earliest stages of HIV infection represent a period of maximum infectiousness, early and accurate detection is critical to control the HIV epidemic. 

“Extending the use of NAT to routine HIV testing programs might help decrease the HIV incidence rate by identifying persons with acute infection that would otherwise be missed (through routine screening),” says first author Sheldon Morris, M.D., M.P.H., assistant clinical professor in the UCSD School of Medicine. “In addition, automated reporting of negative results may prove an acceptable and less resource-intense alternative to face-to-face reporting.”

óDebra Kain