Thanks to advances in HIV testing, labs can detect the disease in a person’s blood up to two weeks earlier than before.
In the fourth generation of HIV tests, a protein that lives on the virus can be detected and therefore a diagnosis can be given even earlier.
“They’re making more and more breakthroughs in the treatment and detection of the virus. Everything that comes out just makes it easier and easier for us as practitioners to help people,” said Sheryl Zayas, DO, a primary care physician at Care Resource.
While the test has been around for about 10 years, it wasn’t until National HIV Testing Day in June that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made an official recommendation to labs to use the fourth generation of HIV testing.
The third generation test could take 20 to 30 days to detect antibodies from HIV in the blood sample. With the fourth generation test, the process can detect proteins present on the virus as early as 15 days. These p24 proteins are some of the first traces of the disease.
Every day that the disease is able to be detected means people can be told of their status earlier — according to the CDC, about half of new HIV infections every year are transmitted by people who unknowingly passed on the virus.
Also, since 2006, when the CDC made the recommendation for Americans 16 to 64 to be tested yearly, people who don’t know their status has decreased from 20 to 16 percent.
“When people are first infected, that’s actually when they are the most infectious to other people,” Zayas said.
Because it can take time for signs of the virus to appear in blood tests, one can unknowingly infect a number of people. For those who believe they may have been exposed to the virus, it’s recommended to be tested three times to make sure you have an accurate diagnosis -- at six weeks, 12 weeks, and 24 weeks.
Doctors recommend getting tested for HIV at least once a year, and even more frequently for those who are at high risk of contracting the disease.