No cure for HIV yet, but early diagnosis can help people live longer

Most people confuse HIV with AIDS. While HIV is the virus that attacks the immune system, AIDS, also known as advanced HIV, is a collection of symptoms that occurs due to an immune system that is severely damaged by HIV. Although there is no cure for HIV, early diagnosis can help start antiretroviral therapy quickly, which can prevent the virus from damaging the immune system. An HIV-positive patient who has received timely treatment can live a normal, long life without progressing to advanced HIV.

Stop the infection early on

The diagnosis of HIV is made either by demonstrating the presence of viruses or viral products (antigens), or by detecting the host’s response (antibodies) to the virus. Rapid diagnostic tests provide same-day results and are a good form of initial screening. However, confirmatory tests such as serological tests (e.g. ELISA) to detect anti-HIV antibodies or HIV p24 antigen, chemiluminescence immunoassays (CLIA) or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) to detect HIV nucleic acids, must be performed. HIV infection can be detected with high accuracy using tests prequalified by WHO.

An infected person usually develops antibodies to HIV after 4 to 6 weeks of infection. During this asymptomatic period of seroconversion – when the body’s immune system has still not developed antibodies to HIV – the infected person may unknowingly pass the HIV infection on to others. There is a strong possibility that a test done during these first few days will not reveal the true diagnosis. This is where the sensitivity, specificity and analytical sensitivity of the HIV p24 Antigen Test Kit becomes of the utmost importance in order to eliminate misrepresentation.

After a positive diagnosis, the patient should be retested before being included in treatment and care to rule out any potential test or report errors.

In India, since the NAAT test is quite expensive and is not available in practice for small and medium-sized laboratory facilities, serological testing such as ELISA is a more common diagnostic method for HIV. As an alternative to NAAT, fourth generation combination assays for the simultaneous detection of HIV antigen and antibodies have been developed with high sensitivity and specificity.

HIV and tuberculosis: a double challenge, molecular tests to the rescue

Not just HIV, TB has also been a concern for India with 27 percent of TB patients worldwide residing in India. In 2016, 12% of people enrolled in HIV care in India had active TB disease. India therefore has a Herculean task to accomplish in ensuring an early diagnosis of HIV and TB.

That said, it is important to note that there is an urgent need to reach remote areas through primary health care centers to raise awareness and access initial screening.

Technological advances in HIV diagnostics continue to solve outstanding and emerging challenges associated with the diagnosis and surveillance of infection by providing simpler, more cost-effective and more accurate tests around the world.

Anil jotwani

Senior President, Sales and Marketing, Transasia Bio Medicals

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