Table of Contents
- Antibody tests
- Types of Antibody Tests:
- Viral Load Tests
- Conclusion: Which HIV Test is Right for Me?
Though several different tests exist, there are three main categories of HIV testing available on the market today: Antibody test, Viral Load tests and a Combination test that measures both antibodies and viral load.
The human body produces antibodies which are specialized proteins in reaction to a foreign protein from itself. These foreign proteins are called antigens. Antibodies are a natural defense response to protect the body. An HIV antibody test measures the amount of antibodies present to fight off the HIV infection.
It can take up to three months after infection, for the body to produce enough antibodies for an accurate test result. Antibody tests are the most common HIV tests available.
Rapid Antibody Test takes approximately 20 minutes to obtain the results. The test can be done on a few drops of blood from a finger prick or on oral fluid obtained from a cotton swab on the inside of the cheek.
ELISA (EIA) Test. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test is one of the more popular HIV tests that measures antibodies in the bloodstream. The test can be done on blood, oral fluid or urine samples. Because the ELISA test is very sensitive, there is a downside of having some false positives, as other types of antibodies other than those to HIV may be measured. In any event, both the Rapid Antibody Test and the ELISA test are used in conjunction with the Western Blot test.
Western Blot is used as a confirmatory test when either the Rapid Antibody or the ELISA test are positive.
The phrase viral loads refers to the amount of virus in the body. This is for HIV or any virus.
HIV works by making more and more copies of itself throughout the body. Without treatment, the viral load can become very high, which is bad for the patient. However, today’s antiviral therapy will actually stop the HIV virus from making copies at all, thus preventing the viral load from increasing.
This is why early detection is so important, because you want to halt the viral load while it is already very low and prevent it from increasing. Though there is no known cure for HIV, proper treatment can make the viral load so low it is very unlikely to infect others.
RNA testing is a bit more direct by measuring the actual presence of virus material (RNA) in the blood. Though there may be few symptoms during these first few days after infection, the virus is continuing to produce more and more of itself. RNA testing can track increases and decreases of HIV viral load in order to evaluate treatment.
HIV RNA testing can be taken much earlier than the antibody tests above, before the body even begins to produce antibodies at all. In fact, the early test window is the major advantage HIV RNA testing has over antibody testing.
- HIV RNA testing is the most sensitive, and accurate, early testing option for HIV available on the market today.
A major HIV protein called P24, is produced 10-14 days after infection before antibodies are produced. The levels continue to rise and peak within 3-4 weeks after exposure and become non-detectable after 5-6 weeks. The P24 test is a 4th generation Antibody test that can detect the P24 antigen and antibody from a small sampling of blood from a finger prick.
Antibody tests can take anywhere from one to three months to yield an accurate result and tend to be the least expensive type. Combination tests a slightly more.
RNA testing is also affordable and can identify the virus after just a few days of possible exposure, giving the best possible option for treatment. This way, patients can start treatments when the viral load is very low and keep it very low. The benefits here far outweigh any drawbacks.