If you think you’ve been exposed to the HIV virus, conditions are
good for infection, 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, an attempt at combating it, 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, allowing access to earlier health care, HIV RNA tests
carry a higher risk for false positive results. It’s also possible
to be HIV positive but have a viral load level too low to be
detectable with an HIV RNA test, but that often means the patient is
already on antiretroviral therapy. Fortunately, any physician
monitoring the situation will be able to discern the difference,
since the patient is already being treated.
- RNA tests are more often used to monitor the progression of HIV, measuring the viral load in the body, as opposed to simply detecting HIV in the way antibody tests do.
- The testing window available, though earlier than any other test, is shorter.
- False positives are more common in RNA tests than other HIV tests, but easy to identify, requiring subsequent testing.
- HIV RNA tests are also frequently used to screen blood donations for infection.
How HIV RNA Early Detection Tests Work
In order to
identify infection, RNA (genetic material of HIV virus) levels are
measured in the bloodstream. In the case of an infected patient, RNA
levels get pretty high during the primary (acute) infection stage,
often above 100,000 copies per ml. vs. the normal 5,000 copies per
Unfortunately, false positives are more
common than other forms of HIV testing, which is one reason why HIV
RNA testing isn’t commonly used like antibody testing is. However,
a false positive result is very easy for a physician to identify.
Testing resulting in a positive read, but offering a very low viral
load (which is conflicting) will be re-tested for confirmation.
False negative results occur most commonly early on/ soon after initial exposure, before the recommended testing windows for each individual test. It is possible for viral load to be too low for HIV RNA testing to pick up on at this point, prior to 9-11 days. If you are using an antibody/antigen testing process before the body has had an opportunity to react to the virus and manufacture antibodies, a false negative would result.
How Accurate is the HIV RNA testing Process?
HIV RNA tests are claimed to be 90%
accurate 10-12 days after initial exposure. Although this is vastly
more accurate than anything else at this point, Antibody/antigen
testing is claimed to show a 99.97% accuracy rate. However, Antibody
testing can’t be used at this early stage.
The HIV RNA test shows a 99% accuracy
rate 12 weeks after exposure, although other tests will likely be
used at this stage.
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.
- Possible HIV-1 exposure in past twelve weeks
- Those who’ve gotten positive results from HIV antibody testing
- Children born to mothers who are HIV positive
- HIV RNA tests are most often recommended around 9-11 days after infection!
Questions & Answers
Why should you
choose the HIV RNA test instead of others?
The HIV RNA test is usually recommended for patients who have good reason to think they are infected, or those who were in high risk situations (for example, a medical caretaker coming into direct contact with infected blood). It isn’t commonly used in every case because it is both less accurate and more costly than other methods.
However, the HIV RNA testing process is
the earliest method of detection available on the market today,
offering the earliest possible access to medical care and
antiretroviral therapy if needed.
What does RNA
RNA stands for ‘ribonucleic acid’, and is the genetic material the HIV virus is made of. The HIV RNA early detection test specifically looks for this type of RNA in the body.
What are some
early symptoms of HIV I should watch out for, which might mean I have
Some of the more common early onset symptoms of HIV include sore throat, skin rashes, intense headaches, fevers and swollen lymph nodes. These are just some of the common symptoms, but not all.
These symptoms don’t mean you
absolutely have the HIV virus. Instead, they should be discussed with
your primary care provider/physician, in order to determine exactly
why they are present.
losing 9.1% in accuracy, why use the HIV RNA early detection test at
The earlier you know for sure whether or not you’ve been infected with HIV, the earlier you have access to advanced antiretroviral therapy, and the better your chances to not only keep viral load low, but stop it from increasing altogether! When it comes to HIV, the last thing you want to do is ignore the problem. Like so many other things, the virus is 100% guaranteed to get worse. Unlike most other medical conditions, there is yet no absolute cure for HIV, so stopping the spread early is the best we can hope for.