HIV RNA Test Accuracy

How Accurate is the HIV RNA Test - HIV RNA Test Accuracy

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Of the different testing modalities which have been developed for HIV, HIV RNA testing is the most recent. Though more expensive and not as popular as the others, more and more people are picking interest in it and are choosing to have the test done after a potential exposure to the virus.

If you think you’ve been exposed to the HIV virus, or you are/were in a high-risk situation where your partner was infected, many doctors recommend the HIV RNA early detection testing. Unlike other tests that measure the body's response to the virus, (antibody production as an attempt to fight off the virus), HIV RNA early detection tests measure the actual virus in the body itself before the body has a chance to react.

Viral load is usually high enough 9-11 days after exposure for a positive result.

Though there are benefits for early detection, which provides the opportunity for earlier health care, HIV RNA tests carry a higher risk for false positive results, because the presence of other viruses may also be detected in the patient’s blood. Our testing is also monitored by Physicians so in the event that a test result is deemed a false positive (on the laboratory side) it is reviewed by Physicians and a recommendation will be made for additional testing to be done for the most accurate result. That may or may not include a Viral Load test or an Antibody test. Each situation will be handled individually and discretely.

Knowing your status is the most important step towards learning methods to decrease spread of the infection and also begin therapy to improve your long-term quality of life.

How HIV RNA Early Detection Tests Work

HIV RNA test is one of the HIV tests which is used to detect the presence of the HIV RNA in your body cells if you are infected. The HIV virus is a kind of virus which stores its genetic information in RNA rather than DNA like most other viruses. It infects the body cells after exposure and begins to replicate within them. In the acute stage of the infection, the viral load can get as high as 100,000 or more copies per ml of a sample.

There is no need to overly worry about False Positives or False Negatives, because the actual viral load count will be compared to the minimum count required to have a positive result. Like with any clinical test we provide, your results will be reviewed by an actual Physician, and the best recommendations will be given to you.

The RNA testing is carried out using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique whereby any DNA or RNA in the sample collected is copied and read, making it a quite highly accurate testing method with an accuracy of 99.89% for both HIV types 1 & 2. The longer you wait, the higher the accuracy of the test.

What are the benefits of HIV RNA testing?

Following exposure to HIV and an infection, your body takes a bit of a while to start producing antibodies to fight the infection. It also takes some time for the virus to grow and replicate in enough quantities to be detected.

This is a setback for most of the HIV tests as it could take up to six months to get a positive HIV test results with them. What this means is that you could have a false negative result even in the presence of an infection.

This little hamper is taken care of by the HIV RNA test which is able to detect the HIV RNA as early as 9 - 11 days after exposure.

This period before a test can be reliably done is referred to as the window period for that test. The HIV RNA test has the shortest window period.

Unlike the other tests that measure the body's response to the virus, (antibody production as an attempt to fight off the virus), HIV RNA early detection tests detect the actual virus in the body before it has a chance to react to it.

Early detection of the virus is highly beneficial to you as an individual as well as to your family, friends, and loved ones as treatments quickly instituted decreases your viral load and reduces your chances of getting them infected. Also, early treatment of HIV especially before symptoms have developed is the most effective.

HIV RNA testing, is becoming the primary test for early detection of the HIV in persons who believe they have been exposed to it.

When Can the HIV RNA Test be Used?

Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the HIV virus through unprotected sexual activity, contact with blood that is infected, an infected mother who is pregnant/breastfeeding/caring for her newborn, or someone who has shared dirty/non-sterile needles are some who can/would enjoy the benefits of early HIV detection.

Questions and Answers

Why do I have to wait for 9 -11 days before taking the test?

Even though the virus is present in your bloodstream as soon as you get infected, waiting for 9 days at least ensures that the chances of a drawn sample not having the virus is much reduced as the virus would have had some time to multiply.

How accurate is the HIV RNA test?

The HIV RNA test has an accuracy of 99.89%. The accuracy is lower if you take the test 9 days after exposure and higher if you wait longer.

Can I get a false positive result with HIV RNA testing?

Just like many other tests, there is always a chance of a false positive or negative result. However with an accuracy of 99.89%, and also a specificity of 99.83%, this means that your chances of getting a false positive result is extremely low (less than 00.17%).

Is less than 100% accuracy of a test important?

Nothing in science is 100% absolute. That is why there are multiple testing methods and confirmatory tests available. However, the most important part of tests are the interpretation of the results by trained Physicians.

Our laboratory results are reviewed by Physicians for clinical relevance.

If a test needs to be repeated or re-tested by a different modality, it will by suggested by our Physicians to ensure you get the best possible results.

Why should you choose the HIV RNA test instead of others?

The HIV RNA testing is the fastest and most accurate method of HIV detection available on the market today, offering the earliest possible access to medical care and antiretroviral therapy if needed.

What is the next step after the HIV test?

It all depends on your result. If it is negative, you do not have to do any other thing. If it is positive however, you would have to take some steps that would confirm your diagnosis so that treatment can be started as quickly as possible. You will be guided and supported every step of the way.

Additional Resources

San Francisco AIDS Foundationwww.sfaf.orgSan Francisco AIDS Foundation has a library of information on HIV and AIDS, primarily focusing on prevention.
National Center for Biotechnology Informationwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.govNCBI has resources on HIV/AIDS testing and procedures.
HMCdepts.washington.eduHMC helps people learn about different kinds of HIV testing.
MedlinePluswww.medlineplus.govMedlinePlus provides valuable and high-quality information on HIV and AIDS. provides vital HIV services where they are most needed.


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