Doctors call on health department to pool blood to search for virus
A group of leading New York City doctors are calling on the city health department to implement a kind of HIV testing that identifies people who are newly infected with the virus, but are undetectable on a standard HIV test because their immune systems have not yet produced antibodies to HIV.
This type of testing, called pooled PCR viral load testing, looks for the virus in a person’s blood. To make it less expensive, the blood from 100 to 200 people is mixed together, or pooled, and tested. If the collective sample tests negative then no one in that pool is infected. If the collective sample tests positive then each individual sample that contributed to the pool is tested to find the infected person or persons.
The pooled testing can identify people who are in the acute HIV infection phase that comes right after a person is first infected. A person in this phase may have flu-like symptoms, but not always. Such an individual can be highly infectious, and infecting others, even as he or she tests negative for HIV on a standard test.
A standard HIV test, called an ELISA test, reacts to antibodies to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and not the virus itself. Someone who is newly infected with HIV may not produce antibodies to the virus for several weeks, but the virus can still be replicating in that person’s body.