HIV RNA Test Window Period

HIV RNA Test Window Period

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Table of Contents

  1. HIV RNA Test Win­dow Period
    1. What is RNA?
    2. RNA in HIV
  2. How it Works: Why So Early?
    1. What is Viral Load?
    2. When is HIV RNA Test­ing Used?
  3. Oth­er Test­ing Win­dow Periods
    1. 4th Gen­er­a­tion Antigen/​Antibody Test
  4. Ques­tions & Answers
  5. Con­clu­sion: Impor­tance of Ear­ly Detection

When it comes to HIV, no pos­si­ble vic­tim of this well known virus is going to want to wait weeks, or even months, for test results. For those that had the mis­for­tune to be in high risk sit­u­a­tions where infec­tion is like­ly, not know­ing is agony. Some would say the not know­ing’ is worse than know­ing you have HIV, because at least then you can begin treatment.

The HIV RNA Test can yield accu­rate results begin­ning from 1 – 3 weeks (911 days) after exposure.

With the ear­li­est pos­si­ble results, your fastest option is eas­i­ly the HIV RNA (viral load) test. That being said, it is also the most expen­sive form of test­ing on the mar­ket. Even then, that cost eas­i­ly pales in com­par­i­son to the med­ical cost of years of antivi­ral treat­ment (Which will increase with high viral load).It’s impor­tant to catch the virus ear­ly, when viral load is very low.

What is RNA?

RNA stands for Ribonu­cle­ic Acid’, present in all liv­ing cells. RNA’s top role is to act as a sort of mes­sen­ger, con­vey­ing instruc­tions for pro­tein syn­the­sis from DNA. In some virus­es, RNA car­ries genet­ic infor­ma­tion, instead of DNA.

RNA in HIV: HIV’s genet­ic mate­r­i­al is com­posed of RNA, rather than DNA. Spe­cif­ic lines of RNA can be detect­ed by NAT test­ing (Nucle­ic Acid Test­ing). HIV RNA test­ing is also known as NAT testing.

How it Works: Why So Early?

In March of 1885, the FDA approved the first anti­body test relat­ed to the HIV virus, and anti­body tests have been the most pop­u­lar, and com­mon, test­ing method for HIV since. The prob­lem with these tests, and why they present with a lat­er test­ing win­dow, is that they mea­sure the body’s reac­tion to the virus and not the virus in itself. It takes time for the body to react to the HIV virus.

The HIV RNA (viral load) test, on the oth­er hand, mea­sures the amount of virus itself in the body direct­ly. More specif­i­cal­ly, the HIV RNA tests mea­sure genet­ic mate­r­i­al known as RNA from viri­ons in blood plasma.

What is Viral Load?

The amount of virus in the body at any giv­en time. When refer­ring to HIV or AIDS, patients want their viral load to be as low as pos­si­ble. Today, it is pos­si­ble with prop­er med­ical treat­ment to get a patient’s viral load so low it can no longer be detectable on viral load tests, and it becomes very dif­fi­cult to trans­mit the virus to others.

The goal of today’s treat­ment is to in fact decrease viral load to unde­tectable lev­els, slow­ing, and often stop­ping, the pro­gres­sion of the virus. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we can’t yet elim­i­nate the virus alto­geth­er, and stop­ping treat­ment will cause the virus to rebound; viral load increases.

When is HIV RNA Test­ing Used?

HIV RNA test­ing is more com­mon­ly used in high risk sit­u­a­tions where infec­tion is like­ly or con­di­tions are dan­ger­ous. Though the test­ing win­dow is ear­ly, results are not as accu­rate as anti­body test­ing. Pos­i­tive results can be mis­lead­ing, and sub­se­quent test­ing is often required. 

Oth­er Test­ing Win­dow Periods

There are three main types of HIV test­ing, HIV RNA being one. The oth­er two include anti­gen test­ing (anti­bod­ies pro­duced to com­bat virus) and com­bi­na­tion testing.

4th Gen­er­a­tion Antigen/​Antibody Test

The aver­age win­dow peri­od for 4th gen­er­a­tion antigen/​antibody tests falls around 25 days to two months, but can stretch as far as three months. Though the win­dow falls at a lat­er time frame, accu­ra­cy rates can be up to 99.97%- much more accu­rate than the ear­ly detec­tion HIV RNA testing.

Ques­tions & Answers

Q: I think I might have caught HIV this past week­end, but it was only a cou­ple days ago.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there is no way to know for sure whether or not you’ve con­tract­ed HIV with­in the past 72 hours; there is yet no tests that work this fast. Your best course of action is to make an appoint­ment with your health care provider and dis­cuss your full range of options. You can also be seen at any free clin­ic. Though they may or may not be able to test for this, the physi­cian will eas­i­ly be able to pro­vide advice and explanations.

Q: I have had many part­ners these past few months, and might have caught HIV from one of them.

Anti­body tests work at least 3 months after infec­tion with a 99.97% accu­ra­cy rate (much more accu­rate than oth­ers). You want to look for acute symp­toms before the asymp­to­matic peri­od (no symp­toms, when many think there is noth­ing wrong and don’t seek treat­ment). The most com­mon symp­toms of this ear­ly acute phase are:

  • Body rash­es
  • Sore throats
  • Fever
  • Severe headaches

Any­one of these symp­toms appear­ing out of the blue’ will raise red flags with most peo­ple, want­i­ng an expla­na­tion for these strange, intense headaches where they rarely had headaches before, or this odd fever and sore throat.

Q: Where can I get HIV tested?

First and fore­most, your health care provider/​doctor can admin­is­ter HIV test­ing. Test­ing can also be pro­vid­ed by most hos­pi­tals, com­mu­ni­ty health cen­ters, clin­ics, and home test­ing kits can also be pur­chased online. 

If you aren’t sure where to go or what method to use, dis­cuss options with your doctor.

Con­clu­sion: Impor­tance of Ear­ly Detection

The ear­li­er HIV is found, the ear­li­er treat­ment can be start­ed and the greater the treat­ment options avail­able. That means bet­ter health care, and greater qual­i­ty of life! With today’s advanced form of HIV treat­ment and incred­i­ble HIV test­ing options, there is no rea­son this dis­ease should change a person’s life like it once did.

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